Sunday, January 06, 2008

TV: The Dead and Missing Persons

Last week, we shared our fantasy that PBS was attempting to kill us. This week Bill Moyers Journal examined a corpse: the Dennis Kucinich presidential campaign.


That's certainly not Bill Moyers' fault. At the start of the week, Kucinich had some strong supporters. The often excluded candidate was going to fight full out and his supporters were with him. (Disclosure: Ava endorsed Kucinich in the primary; C.I. has never personally thought Kucinich was a trust worthy candidate -- in 2004 or 2008.) Then came hump day last week and Kucinich hit a speed bump. As Amy Goodman (Democracy Now!) reported it on Thursday, "Meanwhile Barack Obama has picked up an endorsement from another Democratic challenger, Dennis Kucinich. In a statement, Kucinich urged his supporters to back Obama if Kucinich fails to meet the required fifteen-percent threshold. Voters are allowed to re-align with another candidate if their first choice fails to attract enough votes. Kucinich says his endorsement for Obama is limited to Iowa and he still hopes to compete nationwide."

The reaction was quick within this community with Rebecca, Elaine and Kat explaining that the revealing move ended their support for Kucinich while, on Saturday, Trina would offer the perfect dip to serve for the funeral of Kucinich's campaign. Outside the community, Norman Solomon (CounterPunch) probably captured it best in a column which noted that John Edwards shared more similarities with Kucinich than did Obama and, with Kucinich having endorsed Obama, "now, I can't think of reasons good enough to support Kucinich rather than Edwards in the weeks ahead." The widespread reaction was a topic Moyers raised on Friday asking, "Are you aware that you really upset some of your supporters by asking them to make Barack Obama their second choice in Iowa if they didn't vote for you? And I have had a score of e-mails since we announced that you were coming on the broadcast from your supporters who were quite upset. 'Dennis Kucinich has urged us to do exactly what he spent the last year telling them not to do: skip over a candidate with more progressive politics in order to support a candidate with less progressive politics'."

Kucinich just didn't get it. He thought the thing to do was fall back to 2004 when he had recommended John Edwards in Iowa. First of all, he really doesn't want to remind people of his cowardly 2004 run which found him promising the moon but refusing to fight, as he'd promised he would, for a peace plank on the party platform. When his supporters' peace signs were snatched up at the DNC convention in Boston that year, he refused to say a word. He was a coward and he was pathetic. 2004 really isn't the get-out-of-the-dog-house path he thinks it is. But it's curiously revealing in a way Kucinich didn't touch on.

In 2004, "I made a recommendation and it's an Iowa-only recommendation, it wasn't an endorsement, to go with John Edwards," was part of his meandering answer. For those who see Kucinich as America's only hope for peace and someone who has fought non-stop against the illegal war, they shouldn't rush on to his next statement, they should let that point sink in.

In 2004, John Edwards was not running for the presidency as someone against the war. Dennis Kucinich was. So was Howard Dean. Kucinich, in 2004, elected to endorse not the anti-war candidate Dean, but the then pro-war publicly Edwards. So this isn't just an issue for 2008, when he passed over an anti-war candidate (Edwards) to go with a War Hawk (Obama), he did the same in 2004.

Kucinich doesn't see it as an endorsement, it's a recommendation, he insists. It's an endorsement. And he knows what it was. He caught himself, in the midst of an answer, revealing just that, "And in 2008 I told my supporters that if I didn't reach the delegate threshold they should go-- I would recommend that they go with Barack Obama in the second ballot." "They should go . . ." Oops, he caught himself and started over with, "I would recommend . . ."

Ty passed on reader Jill's e-mail. Jill supported Kucinich until last week. She had "the t-shirts, the bumper stickers, the sign, the whole thing. I never let anyone discuss politics around me without bringing up and advocating for Dennis. I think Kat, Rebecca, Elaine and Trina get to the how offensive it is with comments about how Kucinich appears to think he's the leader of a cult and can order his 'followers' to move at his command. I was a supporter, I was not his follower."

Kucinich would like to argue that Iowa is "different." Due to the nature of the state's set up -- a caucus and not a primary -- support for him might be 'wasted' and it was incumbent upon him to decree to followers where they should go in the second and any later rounds of the caucus.

Here's reality. 'Wasted' is a vote for any candidate, in any state, who doesn't run to win. In other states, voters will not have the luxury of looking around their polling place to determine how many voted for Edwards, Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bill Richardson, Mike Gravel or Kucinich. So, by his logic, their votes may be 'wasted.'

If he doesn't believe his campaign is important enough for his supporters to stand with him, then he's not a real candidate. His supporters in Iowa were certainly in-the-know enough to know how the caucus process works and could have, without any input from him, figured out who they would go with if they didn't stick with him. Instead, he made a deal with Obama to send his 'followers' to them. Maybe it worked in Iowa? Maybe it didn't?

But it did result in (a) offending a lot of people and (b) conveying that he's not running a real campaign.

As a general rule, in future races, anyone who is found to have made a backdoor deal with another candidate in Iowa should immediately be removed from all future debates. Kucinich went public with his arrangement. (Bill Richardson, Chris Dodd and Joe Biden were all rumored to have made deals with the Obama campaign. Dodd and Biden have dropped out of the race.)

Kucinich was shut out of Saturday's debate and wanted to whine and get supporters to whine for him.

Reality, no one's going to miss his one liners. They were on the level of the material offered by strike breaker Jay Leno -- on whose program Kucinich appeared last year to play comic foil at his own expense. Kucinich's 'good guy' persona often translated as "Let's all make fun of me!" It was pathetic. Debates are for issues, not personalities. Granted, the moderators and candidates have all forgotten that point, but there was no reason Kucinich needed to grin through, and contribute to, one televised embarrassment over and over; however, he gladly played the fool.

If you're not grasping how pathetic Kucinich is, note this exchange from the broadcast:

BILL MOYERS: You know, as you speak out, I'm reminded of the lead editorial in THE NATION magazine this week, your friends at THE NATION saying that "Dennis Kucinich more closely embodies our ideals at THE NATION magazine than anybody else. And yet we have to admit that his inability to raise money, to organize grass-roots activism, and to create a mass, small "d," democratic core around him leads us to look elsewhere." What do you say to your friends at THE NATION?

DENNIS KUCINICH: I wish they would have been with me last night in Keene, New Hampshire, where 700 people showed up at the theater in downtown Keene to rally behind the campaign.

Kucinich whimpers, "I wish . . ." How pathetic. How weak. How embarrassing.

In 2007, The Nation repeatedly ran two candidates for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination on their covers: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Hillary's covers were intended to depict her as pure evil and Obama's looked like soft porn. The magazine repeatedly ignored him and, if you set aside John Nichols' rare pieces on him, you're left with no real coverage at all. (The only time Kucinich made the cover of the magazine in 2007 was in an illustration of all the candidates.) We're having a hard time believing that if Mike Gravel had been asked that question, he would have whimpered, "I wish . . ." We think Gravel would have talked about how offensive it was that the magazine gave him no serious coverage. (It was offensive.) But Kucinich wallows in weakness.

The only strength in his campaign came from his supporters and he betrayed them.

It's very easy for him to claim that was one-state-only, as he did to Moyers. It's easy for him to offer the 'differences' between Iowa and other states. But here's reality, in the final tally, Kucinich was attempting to give his Iowa supporters away. They weren't "his" to begin with. He certainly had no right to give or keep them. But Iowa is one state out of fifty and if he thinks it's more important that support 'counts' for other candidates than it is that his supporters stand with him . . . Well, that's not a message that's just going to be applied to Iowa.

As noted already, following the Iowa caucus, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd dropped out. Kucinich dropped out prior to the caucus, he just hasn't made the announcement.

To defend Kucinich's right to be in the race didn't require you supported him. (Again, C.I. does not care for candidate Kucinich.) It only required that you believe anyone who wanted to run be allowed to. But that belief is based on the candidates being real ones and not clowns. Only a clown tries to steer his supporters elsewhere.

Though the candidate was a clown, his supporters weren't. They seriously believed in standing up for a candidate. That wasn't easy. Forget Kucinich's own flaws in campaigning (which included having a press contact who wasn't reachable by phone for the bulk of his run), his supporters believed that it was important to vote for what you believed in. The hope of many (not all) was that, as time passed, enough people would come around and see that Kucinich was the only real candidate. Some would label their support as 'wasting' their vote but their beliefs were that you took your vote seriously by voting for a candidate, who might very well lose, if the candidate stood for something you also believed in.

Kucinich killed his own campaign by removing reasons to support him. If it's not important that he be supported in Iowa, then he shouldn't be supported in any state. And since other states will not allow for 'rounds,' his message translates as, "Don't waste your vote on me."

Yesterday, in New Hampshire, a debate took place. 'Candidate' Kucinich was excluded. We found it interesting who went for the role of the clown when Kucinich wasn't there to play it: Barack Obama and Bill Richardson.

Richardson provided one laugh-getter after another including, "Well, I've been in hostage negotiations that are a lot more civil than this." Possibly too much time has been spent with the lie that you learn everything you need to know in kindergarten? Certainly high school teaches its own lessons such as this one: The class clown rarely becomes the class president. But at least Richardson's jokes actually got laughs. Obama's attempts were far worse.

Charlie Gibson ('moderator') asked Clinton about Obama's record and, in one section of her response, she declared, "You know, Senator Obama has been -- as the Associated Press described it, he could have a pretty good debate with himself, because four years ago he was for single-payer health care. Then he moved toward a rejection of that, a more incremental approach. Then he was for universal health care; then he proposed a health care plan that doesn't cover everybody." Obama's response? "Well, I think the Associated Press was quoting some of your folks, Hillary." As any professional comic knows the only audience response to fear is dead silence which, for the record, greeted that lame attempt at humor by Obama.

With Kucinich out of the debate, Richardson and Obama seemed bound and determined to land the title Funny Boy. That may be a result of the popularity of one-liners under Reagan. "Where's the beef?" was simple and possibly that's because Regan couldn't handle anything too complex. "Well, I think" "the Associated Press" "was quoting" "some of" "your folks, Hillary" is never going to get a loud laugh. It's badly constructed, it depends upon listeners following groupings and it's just badly, badly worded. Though not nominally funnier, it would get the point across much better if he'd said, "Sounds like AP was quoting your people." No need for "Hillary." Funny lines rarely end with a person's name and "eee" syllables, as ending ones, don't lend themselves to that harsh landing needed to pull off the catty Obama was aspiring to. He reminded us of the critic John Simon being channeled through Herman Munster.

"Where's the beef?" was to the point and made the point, for those who liked Reagan, "He's like us, repeating a slogan." Wit really isn't a factor in presidential elections but bad attempts at it distance the voters from the candidate.

When people talk about the Al Gore 2000 campaign for president, they're often full of anger about what the press did to him. The press did this, the press did that and blah, blah, blah. What Al Gore did to himself is never addressed.

Sure, some will note that he ran a lousy campaign, but that's about as far as it goes. Last fall, TV viewers were provided with an example of the damage Gore so regularly did to himself when he appeared on 30 Rock allegedly to promote awareness on the environment. (NBC turned an entire week over to pseudo-environmentalism.) In the episode, Gore's heavily billed appearance came at the end. Guest star David Schwimmer played a corporate schill for pseudo-environmentalism whose 'power' goes to his head and he goes nuts. To replace him on a Today segment, Alec Baldwin's character attempts to strong-arm Gore. It doesn't work and the appearance might have been fine -- stiff, but fine. However, Gore then has to make a statement, to Tina Fey's character, about an animal being in danger ("Quiet. A whale is in trouble. I have to go.") and, like Superman from the 50s TV series, he's gone.

Gone nuts is more like it.

There is "good sport" and then there is "sacrificial victim." Like Gore too often did in 2000, Kucinich made himself the clown and provided plenty of ammo for those neutral to him -- not just those that hate him -- to turn away from him.

When a publishing house fed a tidbit to Tim Russert via a glossy magazine and Russert screwed it up (the UFO incident) in a debate, Dennis Kucinich responded by? Going to a joke. Is that the image Americans respond to? Do they really think, "Gee, if the United States is bombed, imagine the one liners in the Oval Office!"?

No. But politicians seem to think they're funny (that actually is funny) and Kucinich clowned in debate after debate and then wanted to whine that he wasn't getting significant or serious press. The press actually was hostile to Al Gore during 2000; however, the reality was that every time he thought he was playing good sport by mocking himself, he telegraphed two key things: (a) weakness and (b) a desire to be liked. The latter fed into their beliefs that he'd do anything to be president and the former gave them even more motivation to carve him up.

To Moyers, Kucinich bragged about being third-string on the football team. Even non-sports nuts like ourselves know that's not a good thing. To some it may be a charming story. To others, it may also convey the desperation to fit in, the desperation to go along with something you stink at instead of finding something you're good at, and/or the desperation to be liked. What's for sure is that it doesn't show leadership. Was Kucinich auditioning for a cabinet post? Was he auditioning for a deputy cabinet post?

Kucinich claimed it demonstrated that he had "determination" and was "resilient." After, he would go on to brag about his masters in communication which only left us wondering how bad the RTF programs were in his day? He would answer that for us shortly when he declared, "The electronic broadcast media is licensed to, you know, and to operate the airwaves in a public trust for the public." Is licensed to what, Kucinich? "to, you know, and to"? Was "you know" a blank we were all supposed to fill with our own preference?

Running off at the mouth with no lost words when boring the country with his story of being a third-string football player but unable to speak with any degree of authority about the broadcast media, Kucinich not only dug the grave for his now dead candidacy, he also cast doubt on communication majors.

Which brings us to the start of the broadcast, when Moyers interviewed Kathleen Hall Jamieson, or, as we like to think of her, Dr. Kathy.

Dr. Kathy teaches communication and if you've ever confused that with a real field (it's on par with majors such as "hotel management" and "public relations"), watch Dr. Kathy's discussion with Moyers before you plunk down any money for a degree in it.

Dr. Kathy focused on the speeches given by Obama and Mike Huckabee in Iowa. Good, you might think, we're going to get some reality in terms of what they claimed as opposed to what they actually did.


We got Dr. Kathy, who would later in the interview decry media narratives, impose her own. It was embarrassing and were it not for the weird thing Dr. Kathy kept doing with her hands, we would have averted our eyes.

The weird thing she was doing with her hands? We have no idea what it was but it reminded us of Lady MacBeth attempting to wash off the blood. Dr. Kathy is with the so-called "" which means, if only by association, she has some blood on her hands as well. For those who have forgotten, 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry called out the cuts to veterans programs the Bully Boy was making. Kerry was correct. The issue could have been addressed and explored were it not for the fact that the allegedly non-partisan "" rushed in to decree that Kerry was wrong.

As Elaine has pointed out repeatedly over the years, there is no medical staff at "" As she has also noted, her own experience in her practice was already telling her there was a crisis before Kerry's comments. But "" gave the press the perfect excuse to 'move along' and provided cover for the Bully Boy. Like Elaine, we think "" is culpable in all veterans' sucides as well as in the slow to emerge Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal because, summoning all their alleged authority, they decreed there was no funding issue. So if we were Dr. Kathy, we'd be flailing our hands around in a weird manner as well. (However, we'd grasp that the blood's not coming off.)

When Dr. Kathy finished wasting everyone's time by telling them what was being 'communicated' in speeches they had already seen (if they were interested), she turned her eye to media narratives being told on Friday morning, the first morning after the Iowa caucus. What may be of most interest there is that Dr. Kathy weighed in on a number of things but missed the most important thing.

To speak of missing persons
Tonight there's only one
And we all carry with us what the man's begun
-- Jackson Browne, "Missing Persons" (Hold Out)

John Edwards had a small lead over Hillary Clinton; however, it was a lead. He came in second. Though pictured in the top right picture on the front page of Thursday's New York Times (before the caucus), Friday was different.

Taking up a third of the top half of the front page, Adam Nagourney's "Obama Triumphs In Iowa Contest; Huckabee Rolls" continued inside the paper for two-thirds of A13 and the lengthy article provided only seven sentences that mentioned Edwards (only one paragraph was specifically about Edwards). Mike Huckabee was the focus of a front page "news analysis" that continued inside for the rest of A13. Second place in the GOP Iowa caucus Mitt Romney had an article on A14 that took up a little over half the page.

On A15, Marc Santora's "With Iowa in Rearview Mirror, Candidates Move to New Ground and Issues" took up approximately a third of the page and managed to mention Edwards in three sentences. Hillary Clinton received six sentences, Obama received six sentences, Mitt Romney received at least six sentences, Mike Huckabee (the GOP winner, remember) received one sentence, Rudy G received two sentences. It bears noting that the paper went to print with 65% of the Republican precints reporting. At that time, the order (from first onward) was Huckabee, Romney, Fred D. Thompson (13.7% for third place) and John McCain (in fourth with 13.2%). The Times wasn't interested in dropping below fourth (for the Democrats, fourth place was held by Bill Richardson.) So here's the point in our counting sentences in Santora's article: Who received the most coverage? Twelve sentences went to fourth place in Iowa John McCain.

And let's note who got their picture in the paper the day after the Iowa caucus: Mitt Romney got the largest photo, Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee got the smaller photos of the same size (however, as always, cover boy Bambi was in the foreground of his photo and Huckabee looked like an extra at a press conference) and . . . John McCain. McCain would be covered and pictured on Saturday as well, for anyone wondering.

But Saturday came after Dr. Kathy offered the sort of 'insight' only a communications major can. And somehow she, like the press, managed to overlook John Edwards. (She doesn't mention him once.) Dr. Kathy could, and did, talk about the fourth place McCain when Bill Moyers asked her to talk about the stories the press was putting out -- the larger stories (narratives) -- on Friday:

But the other piece out there before the caucus ever happened, was if McCain comes in third in Iowa, McCain is propelled into New Hampshire. If Romney doesn't win in Iowa, Romney comes into New Hampshire very, very vulnerable. Who isn't even being talked about in that narrative? Huckabee, who won in the Iowa caucuses. And you hear some of that in this morning's press coverage, and news coverage in broadcast. You hear the assumption that it's really McCain-Romney in New Hampshire. And here's the last narrative: Huckabee really was about getting those evangelicals. And there aren't any of those in New Hampshire. So we probably shouldn't think he's going to do well there. Let's wait for him to come back, when the evangelicals reappear in South Carolina.

First, McCain didn't come in third and discussing that pre-set narrative required noting the reality. Second, if there was a key to the narratives repeatedly put forward by the press on Friday (about only one state and only 16% of those eligble participating) it was the absence of John Edwards from the major narratives. Communications guru Dr. Kathy also stripped Edwards out of the equation by never once mentioning him.

At one point, she raved over a photo of Barack Obama on stage compared to one of Hillary. We'd heard and read that crap everywhere already before The Journal aired. Does the country really need a communications major to tell us what's shown in staged photos? Might we be better served by someone who wasn't taken in by staged and planned photos but instead explored what the photos didn't tell you?

If you're one of the (lucky) few who missed the photos 'commentary' that was everywhere Friday morning, Hillary was pictured with Bill, Mad Maddie Albright and Wesley Clark among others. Barack Obama offered a White Bennington ad (though no one commented on the Whiteness of it all). Dr. Kathy saw symbolism in the photos, saw portents, saw . . . a load of crap. Here's the reality Dr. Kathy and others wouldn't tell you, Hillary's photo was your basic speech photo with the candidate surrounded by their team. Bambi's people, Technicolor by Deluxe wizards that they are, saw a chance to use the speech to send a false message. Now the reality is that Bambi's backed by Sammy Power, Sarah Sewer, Anthony Lake, Dennis Ross and Zbigniew Brzezinski among others. So a lot of garbage about how the photos say this or that ("Change!" "Break with tradition!" on Bambi's part) needs to note the reality of what's not said in the photos.

What Bill Moyers Journal provided on Friday was an autopsy on the death of Kucinich campaign and the need to file a missing persons report on John Edwards. To his credit, Moyers did bring up Edwards elsewhere in the program. But since Dr. Kathy's been invited to come back on the program this coming Friday, we strongly urge her to offer less factoids, less impressions about regligion and a lot less nonsense.

[Reminder, Bill Moyers Journal online offers full transcripts, audio and video streaming options and, by doing so, serves the public interest. All programs of The Journal are archived online.]
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