Hardball Needs to Play Hardball with its Staff

On the 5pm Monday edition of MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews”, a story about Barack Obama was accompanied by a graphic of Osama Bin Laden. After the commercial break, Matthews apologized for the error and moved on with his show.

Over a week ago, MSNBC correspondent David Shuster was suspended when he suggested that the Clintons were exploiting their daughter, Chelsea, for their own political gain. The point could be argued one way or another but Shuster’s choice of words (that the Clintons were “pimping” Chelsea) was most unfortunate. Despite an on air apology, Shuster is still suspended. If Hillary had her way, he would have been fired.

Well, I think the more appropriate target for firing is whichever staff member “mistakenly” called up a picture of Osama Bin Laden during an Obama story. On the eve of the Wisconsin primary, a major news show “confuses” the most inspirational candidate of our time with America’s number one fugitive, responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans in the World Trade Center attacks of 2001. This mistake cannot get simply passed over with a curt apology from Chris Matthews. The parties responsible should be fired and their dismissal should be announced by MSNBC in a prominent venue (perhaps tomorrow nights edition of Hardball). I don’t blame Matthews personally for this screw up but I do hold him responsible to make sure the error gets publicly rectified.

In a country where a sizable percentage of ignorant Americans think Obama is a Muslim, this mistake on Hardball only serves as a subliminal reenforcement of that inaccurate impression. When the show ended this evening, I called MSNBC and voiced my concern. I’m now calling on MSNBC and Matthews to do the right thing and make it clear that encouraging any association between Obama and Osama, however accidental, is unacceptable.


Two Words does not Plagiarism Make

I continue to be amazed at the bizarre and absurd twists and turns that the Clinton presidential campaign takes. The latest involves an accusation of plagiarism against Barack Obama. Apparently, one refrain from a recent Obama speech in Wisconsin closely resembles that of a speech made by Obama supporter Deval Patrick several years ago.

Let’s look at this case of “plagiarism”. Much like Obama, Patrick was attacked for being an empty suit spouting rhetoric without substance (i.e. just words, nothing more). His response was to cite several profound historic quotes (e.g. “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”) followed by the phrase “just words!” In Wisconsin this past weekend, Obama used the same approach. He chose an historic quote or two different from Patrick, but he ended each quote with the phrase “just words!”

So, let me get this straight. Repeating the same TWO WORDS in the refrain of a speech that someone else used, now qualifies as plagiarism? If we’re gonna count “stolen words”, surely Hillary saying she is “fired up and ready to go” (six words lifted right from Obama) smacks much more of plagiarism than Obama’s supposed offense.

But more to the point, if Obama is guilty of anything, he is guilty of using Patrick’s rhetorical construct to make his point. But loads of orators borrow constructs from other orators. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in the rhythmic patterns of many preachers before him. Did that make him a plagiarist? A good motivational speech employs rhythm, imagery, repetition of certain phrases and a certain vocal tone. Every great speaker from FDR, to the Kennedys, to King, to Obama employs these methods.

One would have hoped that after Hillary “accused” Obama of being an ambitious kindergartner back in the day (yes, she actually did that), that she would have abandoned the lightweight foolish diversions and focused on the substantive issues Americans face today.

The fact is, Hillary’s accusation of plagiarism against Barack is “just words”, signifying absolutely nothing.


Why We Should Temper our Criticism of Bush

It is hard to believe that I am writing a piece in defense of President George W. Bush after all the trouble he and his administration have gotten us into. A couple of weeks ago, I was browsing the White House web site and I stumbled upon a video tour of the Oval Office given by none other than the President himself. You can find the video here http://www.whitehouse.gov/history/life/video/index.html.

I am astounded that the web production folks did not edit this video more carefully. About two minutes and 20 seconds into the video, President Bush introduces a painting on the Oval Office wall, and then repeats himself as if he had not already said what he said. After about four minutes and 15 seconds he begins to discuss a Tom Lea painting and again, says almost the exact sentence twice as if he had not already said it once.

There has been much written about the possibility that President Bush is dyslexic. He has denied it. I think this video on the White House web site makes a clear case that the President has some sort of cognitive disability. I discount the possibility that he was just nervous in the video because this man speaks publicly on a regular basis.

My point here is not to make fun of the President. On the contrary, I got a lump in my throat when I watched the Oval Office tour video. This is a man who truly has innate difficulty with communication. I can only wonder to what degree the manipulators in his administration have taken advantage of his disability. At worst, this may very well be the Presidency of Chauncey Gardner, the feeble minded but well meaning protagonist of the 1979 film “Being There”.