I came across one of those phony political news stories the other day surfing the net. This time it was called “Dijon-gate”. Does everything political have to end with the “gate” suffix? Enough with the fake Watergate comparisons. Anyway, this was some contrived outrage about President Obama going to a local Washington diner with Vice President Biden, ordering a burger, and then asking for – horror of all horrors – Dijon mustard to slather on the burger. Oh my, an incarnation of John Kerry!
First off, anyone with a semblance of a well trained gastronomic palate would have to agree that Dijon mustard – either the real stuff or even the watered down Grey Poupon version – tastes far superior to the neon yellow paste they call mustard. Ordering a burger with Dijon mustard makes Obama no less of a “real man” (whatever that means) than someone eating the burger raw. Who really gives a damn what condiments Obama puts on his burger?
But then, as I was continuing to read the article, I learned that MSNBC edited out the audio portion where Obama asked for the “spicy or Dijon mustard.” Apparently, MSNBC does, in fact, care about what Obama puts on his burger.
My initial laughter at this non-story turned to aggravation – not at President Obama, but at MSNBC. I’ve seen this act before. Time and time again. In fact, I have assiduously been trying to follow our Preacher friend’s advice about leaving pain in the past and moving on. This story, however, dredged up myriad unpleasant memories of past transgressions and subjective reporting by MSNBC during the political primary season.
I have always been a loyal Democrat, ever since my pre-voting days when I helped to stuff envelopes and deliver campaign literature for presidential candidate Jimmy Carter. To that end, I am ecstatic that President Obama is in office. However, he was not my first choice. I would have much preferred to see Hillary Clinton victorious in the primary and general election.
Being a political junkie, I followed the primaries very closely, reading as many newspapers, Internet articles, blogs, and watching as much cable television political coverage as time would permit. Those wonderful evenings when a debate or state primary would occur were my Super Bowls, watching not only the actual event, but savoring the endless hours of political re-hash that followed. My cable station of choice was MSNBC followed by CNN, with strong emphasis on the word “was”.
Something happened to MSNBC, though. Right around the time after the Iowa caucus, when Obama pulled the upset, the tone of the coverage began to change. During the night of the New Hampshire primary, before the polls closed, Chris Matthews began to pontificate about Lawrence of Arabia, analogizing how “the Clintons” (he usually referred to them as a pair, evidently not realizing or believing that a woman could actually do something independently of a man) missed the attack from the rear, and were going to be crushed that evening by Obama:
“It seems to me that Hillary Clinton‘s campaign was not, to use the parlance we all use, positioned well. You remember in the great movie “Lawrence of Arabia” where the Turks aimed all their guns at the sea, and the Arab revolt came in from the desert. They crossed the Nefu. They weren‘t supposed to be able to do that. It could be tonight we could see this latter-day Lawrence, Barack Obama, cross the Nefu and come in behind the Clintons into their own base, the very base that they are absolutely confident of,” Matthews strangely proclaimed.
Wrong. Hillary won New Hampshire, the polling data was incorrect, and Matthews was obviously furious that his movie analogy would not hold. He began to spout about the racist New Englanders who lie to pollsters about their voting selections. Not only were they racist, but in Matthews’ unusual mind, they were liars, too.
The next day, Matthews appeared on Joe Scarborough’s morning show, and assailed Hillary Clinton as a political candidate who only got as far as she did because “her husband messed around”:
"Let's not forget -- and I'll be brutal -- the reason she's a U.S. senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around. That's how she got to be senator from New York. We keep forgetting it. She didn't win there on her merit,” Matthews incredibly asserted.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from a supposedly objective commentator. This type of anti-Clinton bias began to permeate MSNBC’s coverage, first by Matthews and later by Keith Olbermann. Chris Matthews finally admitted that he got a “thrill up his leg” listening to Obama’s oratory. Although Olbermann arrived late to the party, he ultimately became the most vociferous Clinton basher and Obama sycophant among all the talking heads.
On one of his notorious “Special Comments” which had heretofore been reserved primarily for members of the Bush administration, Olbermann railed at Hillary Clinton’s historical analogy that she was remaining in the race because anything could happen. In a moment that I’m sure she would like to erase, and one that she quickly apologized for, Clinton mentioned Robert Kennedy’s assassination among other examples of uncertain episodes during our nation’s primary season. Olbermann blasted her careless use of words, ending with a typical “Senator, we cannot forgive you this", as if he were speaking in Old English. To Olbermann, it was almost as if Clinton were Attila the Hun suggesting another round of pillage and plunder.
Interestingly, there was nary a peep out of Olbermann regarding Obama’s “small town” faux pas - a careless use of words - or the rantings of Jeremiah Wright - a real travesty of careless word choices. No Special Comment there. Instead, we were treated to a fawning explanatory interview with the then candidate Obama.
Worst of all, MSNBC allowed this lack of objectivity to occur unabated. By not curtailing it, they implicitly, if not explicitly, encouraged it to continue. Matthews and Olbermann were the anchors for the political primaries and party conventions, thereby defying any hint of objective coverage. My relatively insignificant protestations of the anti-Clinton coverage amounted to several e-mails to the head honchos, Steve Capus and Phil Griffin. Others with a real voice, such as Washington Post columnist Howard Kurtz, wrote about this media bias many times. MSNBC was not listening or simply did not care.
It wasn’t until after an annoyed Tom Brokaw – one of the very few objective voices who appeared on MSNBC – told Keith Olbermann that his comment about Hillary Clinton trying to “shoehorn her way” into the coverage was unfair, did anything very slowly begin to change. Later, in September 2008, David Gregory replaced the Matthews/Olbermann team as the anchor for the presidential debates and the general election. It was too little, too late, and the damage to the NBC news brand was already done.
Today, MSNBC is nearly unwatchable as an objective news source. Their prime time lineup is nothing more than an Obama fiesta with the continuation of Matthews and Olbermann and the additions of Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow. Perhaps they are pleased to be the unfiltered Obama mouthpiece and clear alternative to Fox News. Critical thinking skills at either of the aforementioned networks, however, are in very short supply.
For me, I’ll take my burger with Dijon mustard and gladly announce it to the world.