January 3rd, 2005

Voted for Dean

In praise of Joe Scarborough and his blog

A few months ago, I was being forced to watch about four to five hours a night of right-wing news television while at work: Hardball (Chris Matthews, Fox News), Hannity & Colmes (Sean Hannity, Fox News), the O'Reilly Factor (Bill O'Reilly, Fox News), Scarborough Country (Joe Scarborough, MSNBC), and then Imus in the Morning (Don Imus, MSNBC). Now, set aside Don Imus for a moment. I can't really tell you what he talks about in his show, because the man mumbles as badly as Dylan used to; I can't make out a word he says. (How does a guy with a speech defect that bad get a job in nationally syndicated talk radio?) Here's what I observed about the other four.

Before I left for work each night, I'd check the latest news wires on Yahoo! Most Viewed Stories, and I'd usually see that the White House had issued its daily statement on something or other, and/or various administration officials had made statements or given interviews, whatever ... there'd be about three to five stories out of the White House. Then I'd go to work, and as I walked past the TVs in the lobby, Chris Matthews would come on, and the subject of his show was nearly always, "Here's what the administration had to say this morning, and here's my panel of experts to talk about it" -- all of whom but one or two would be "experts" who quoted the administration verbatim as if the thoughts were their own, except for one moderate and one liberal, both of whom would be aggressively ridiculed, mocked, interrupted, and talked over by Chris Matthews and the other conservatives on the show.

Then Bill O'Reilly would come on, with his Talking Points, followed by two to four more stories. He would end up covering the same five stories, in the same order that Chris Matthews had. He would use the same lines that the administration had used as if he had thought of them himself, without attributing them as quotes. He would bring on panels of "experts," at least one of which would either be an administration official, or someone parroting the administration word-for-word, and again, still as if the thoughts were original. Anyway, then that show would go off, and be replaced by Sean Hannity. Sean Hannity would cover the same five stories, in the same order, with the same sound bites, and as often as not with mostly the same talking heads that had just been on Bill O'Reilly's and Chris Matthew's shows; if not, he'd have talking heads that repeated the same lines the ones on the previous show had used. The only difference would be that instead of Bill O'Reilly's long editorial at the beginning of his show, some nights they'd let Alan Colmes interview some celebrity.

Then Joe Scarborough would come on, and when that show was over it was time to turn the TVs off. I'd catch some Imus during my last break in the morning (this was a 3rd shift job), and what he always seemed to be talking about was how President Bush had said something wise and important last night, and all the experts agreed with it, but somehow there were :these people" who didn't agree. "How could you not agree with the President of the United States, he's the President?" always seemed to be Imus's vaguely confused attitude, "If you're smarter than him, why aren't you the President? STFU!" (As often as not, I would then hear the next evening that on Rush Limbaugh's afternoon radio show, Rush had spent the day talking about the same five stories, aggressively and inaccurately mocking the people who disagreed with the White House's version.)

(Oh, I see that I forgot to mention Greta van Sustern's show, which was somewhere in the middle of that. But then, other than a quick recap of the hourly headlines, her show was basically the Scott Peterson Trial Show, with occasional breaks to cover some other middle class white woman in peril.)

Now, you'll notice that I didn't tell you what was on Joe Scarborough's show. You know why? Because out of the five of them, he was the only one who actually wrote his own show. The others (and presumably him) were all getting the same "talking points" memo from the RNC and/or the White House, every day, and were faithfully following orders to stay on-message and put out the good word, four basically identical shows a night. But not Joe Scarborough, who was obviously skimming that fax and throwing it in the trash can, because he had something thoughtful -- partisan, yes, but generally thoughtful and researched -- already to go, and it was his show. He is, so far as I can tell, the only Republican professional talking head, the only Republican member of the Commentariat (on TV, anyway) with an ounce of integrity or independent thought.

He's got the resumé to back it up, too. He was elected to the House of Representatives from Florida in 1994 as part of the Contract with America gang, the Gingrich revolution. However, once Republicans controlled the House and the White House, they went on a Republican spending spree of their own. That offended Joe, so he spent as much time railing against Republican pork as he did about Democratic pork. (Pork barrel spending is his personal Number One Issue. He's against it.) As a result, the national party chose to not help him quite so much when he was up for re-election, and now he's a TV journalist. This gives him two really important credentials that no O'Reilly, Matthews, Limbaugh, Hannity, or any of the rest of that gang of corrupt dishonest incompetents have. First of all, he's been an actual elected Congressman, a professional politician; unlike them, he actually knows what he's talking about. Second of all, having run afoul of big spenders in both parties, he's got a certain credibility. There's no doubt whatsoever what side he's on in the partisan debate, but he's got the guts to point fingers and name names at people on his own side when they do the same things that he hates when our side does them.

Now he's got a fairly new weblog on the MSNBC website, "Congressman Joe." Since it's not constrained to cover current news, he can (and does) talk about whatever he feels like talking about. Since it's not constrained to cover "x" number of stories in 60 minutes with "y" number of commercial breaks, he can make any one column as long as he feels like making it. And even better, he can source himself online, so he's not constrained to find some Republican idealogue to say what he wants to say half of the time, and thereby run the risk of having his show hijacked by administration-programmed parrots. So unsurprisingly, the weblog is even better than his show. I hardly ever go out of my way to watch his show; I do read his blog. I don't read it every day, but it is my primary source now when I want to see what an experienced, coherent Republican with some integrity is thinking.