Earlier last week an oddness took place on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe“. An uncommonly aggressive line of questioning for the morning show was levied at Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.
It was a line of questioning that involved a lot of yelling, but it is important to distinguish that the questions being asked were good questions and hard to answer, but questions that nonetheless should be answered. There are very good times to yell, and there are ways to yell respectfully.
It started when Matthews got angry over a recent joke Romney made about Obama’s birth certificate and claims that the President removed work requirements for welfare, claims that were false. He also continued to question Priebus when he called the President’s policies European, and even Tom Brokaw broke in to agree in part with Matthews that the GOP has done a poor job of governing its own party members.
The three points are linked.
Here’s how: the race card. The birther jokes in general are a no-no, and in Romney’s case it was probably just an awkward joke moment, but it received applause and it was a case of pandering to the Republican idea that even though Obama can prove as much as any other American that he was born in this country, Obama might be a secret Kenyan Muslim.
Second, the claim that the President will make it easier for people to remain on welfare by removing work requirements, which is false, makes Obama seem overly sympathetic to the poor, and that he’s willing to help many of them — insinuated illegal citizens — steal money from taxpaying Americans.
And third, Priebus and others claiming that Obama’s policies are European-esque link him once again to the xenophobic virus raging through the GOP and makes him seem foreign.
Largely these kinds of discussions are broadcasted with the brutal severity of several older white women having tea in a shaded area during a sunny afternoon — which is to say the media is more concerned with the viewer… rather than being concerned that the viewer receives important information that can and will affect how they feel about certain candidates and policies that will certainly affect how well they can live their lives.
Now, none of the three GOP arguments make any legitimate sense. Yet it is allowed to go on spreading because the leaders of the GOP tacitly boo-hoo the lies, but also welcome moments of “levity” which keep the conspiracies alive. They do not correct it, and therefore the information keeps spreading.
And so we need to welcome agressive questioning to reveal these hippocricies at large in both parties (but in this article we’re focusing mostly on GOP hippocricies).
Chris Matthews’ was more of an informational and investigative line of questioning than just a rant. Sure, he has ranted before. And expectedly, he’s been called all sorts of ogreish adjectives for the apparent scalding he poured on Priebus. But much less expectedly, there have been calls for this instance to go down with others like it as necessary viewing for classrooms in college classrooms — journalism or otherwise.
But it also highlights that the American media is not prepared to harsh their morning audience’s 6 to 9 euphoria. Sure, they can pleasantly discuss the fact that some people suggest that Republicans are spreading an agenda of lies by not cleaning themselves, the way kids spread germs when they don’t wash their hands.
And they can lightly talk about the liberal foolishness in the assumption that we have the ability to help everyone, and that welfare does not need reform… but largely these kinds of discussions are broadcasted with the brutal severity of several older white women having tea in a shaded area during a sunny afternoon — which is to say the media is more concerned with the viewer… rather than being concerned that the viewer receives important information that can and will affect how they feel about certain candidates and policies that will certainly affect how well they can live their lives.
This idea is prevalent in independent news organizations, and public news organizations, but since it still has not effected the mainstream media, we have to keep talking about it. And we need hosts who are willing to ask the right questions, and not settle for a paltry side-stepping answer.
It is never good to let one’s temper get out of control, but controlled anger is quite a useful tool when arguing, especially in serious subjects. Our motto for how we treat the people who could potentially lead our country could and should be: increase the volume and the sternness of the questions, make sure they answer the questions, and maintain civility.
Matthews demonstrated an insult-free Cyrano de Bergerac line of questioning — the intent being to take what has been said, publicly, and throw it back at the speaker to show the comment’s absurdity or ridiculousness.
Humorists do that all the time in columns. Matthews just happened to do it on “Morning Joe”. We should applaud the forceful yelling of hard questions at the people who effect how our country is run, who effect our lives. We don’t need to be insulting, or vulgar, or nasty about it — but we should be forceful in making them directly address the questions being asked. Never forget that they work for us.
To the race card argument that Matthews started with, and the work requirement.
Special correspondent Tom Brokaw interjected, “I think it was a demonstration of his awkward sense of humor, but I do think, in fairness, that all during the Republican debates and primaries that there was a lot of stuff aimed at the president that was not refuted by leaders of the party.”
Priebus responds that he has refuted it, and he has, but that’s not the point. Brokaw said “leaders” suggesting that the higher ups in the Republican Party are not correcting these false rumors well enough, or at all. Allowing their own party members to say these things poisons what old-fashioned Republicanism is about, because I don’t think that Republicans as a majority will tell you that they prefer to be inflammatory, or promote blatantly false information.
This is not a critique about balance, and certainly not a defense of “Morning Joe”, or even of Chris Matthews; this is an argument that this line of questioning needs to occur more often, and with equal intensity — the co-hosts of “Morning Joe” let Priebus off the hook. A serious angle was brought up and they chose not to address it.
Then Priebus re-stated the claim that Obama is heading towards European economic policies “He’s looking to Europe for guidance” insinuating that is a problem because Europe is in an overall financial crisis, with Greece at the extreme end. Matthews countered by asking, “You mean the fact that every president we’ve had whose tried to offset the economic cycle with stimulus going the other direction is somehow European?”
And then Matthews went on to say:
“Let me tell you some history, sir. Teddy Roosevelt pushed for that. Franklin Roosevelt pushed for that. Truman pushed for that. Were they all under the influence of Europe? Where do you get this from?”
To this, Priebus responed: “I’m not going to get into a shouting match with Chris so you guys can move on.”
Matthews: “Because you’re losing, that’s why.”
The fact that he wouldn’t address criticism of his own argument does indeed make it look like Priebus backed out of the argument because he was losing it. Had he thought that Chris was wrong, he would have kept arguing.
This is not a critique about balance, and certainly not a defense of “Morning Joe”, or even of Chris Matthews; this is an argument that this line of questioning needs to occur more often, and with equal intensity — the co-hosts of “Morning Joe” let Priebus off the hook. A serious angle was brought up and they chose not to address it. They sat there and allowed Priebus to deflect the questions with comments that sounded like direct answers but were not. And he did that until commercial break.
Needless to say, this event is an excellent example of how at certain times of day, and on certain networks, mainstream media is unwilling to allow for competitive debate.
Watch the video, and it’s telling that at the end of the conversation co-host Mika Brzezinski disqualified herself even in thanking Matthews, saying, “Thanks, I think.”