You know that MSNBC has leaned too far forward into abject hackery masquerading as journalism when it gets slammed by Bill Maher, otherwise one of its most fervent defenders.
On his HBO show Friday night, Maher used the occasion of MSNBC's Rachel Maddow appearing as one of his guests to tell Maddow that her network's obsession with the Bridgegate scandal has become too much even for him. Maddow, not surprisingly, defended the coverage and, equally unsurprising, made a dishonest analogy in the process. (Video after the jump)
The exchange occurred after Maher cited a blog post he'd written on Valentine's Day in which he said that while he's "been in love with MSNBC," he might have to break up with the network "because you've become obsessed with another man, Chris Christie."
This was his way of saying, Maher told his audience, and "this was coming from affection," that he thought MSNBC's coverage of Bridgegate was "a little over the top."
Maddow conceded that she's "totally obsessed" with Bridgegate and "unapologetically" so. Before Bridgegate, Maddow said, she though then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's efforts to sell off the U.S. Senate seat left vacant after Barack Obama was elected president had been "the gonzo scandal of my day." (Yes -- "my day").
"This is just as good!" Maddow gushed. But you didn't cover the Blagojevich scandal nearly as much, Maher countered, followed by Maddow claiming she had.
The exchange was briefly sidetracked when another guest, former House member Jane Harman, described how she was interrupted while talking with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC about NSA surveillance when Mitchell said the network needed to cut to live coverage of Justin Bieber's arrangement in Miami last month. After Maher's audience got a huge laugh from the footage of Mitchell interrupting Harman, it was back to MSNBC's obsessive-compulsive disorder involving Bridgegate. This time, National Review's Charles C.W. Cooke weighed in and his criticism was balanced and withering (embedded video starts here) --
MAHER: First of all, I am open to the charge because this was a comedy piece and I didn't, because it's comedy you don't always have room to include everything. I should have said that yes, this is not the same as Benghazi. I made that analogy but, I said this is your Benghazi (gesturing toward Maddow). Benghazi is a real, is nothing, there is no scandal there. This is an actual scandal. It's just that it's not Watergate. He's not the president. He's not even a guy who ever himself said he was going to be running for president. He's a New Jersey governor who did something bad, he closed lanes on a bridge -- bad -- but is it really that bad? ... And if it was a Democratic governor not close to New York City, the media capital, would we be covering it?
That's the thing about Maher -- along with the shiny nuggets, you get plenty of fool's gold. Benghazi is "nothing" and not an "actual" scandal? I'd venture to say the survivors of Americans slain in Benghazi are likely to disagree with that assessment. How's this for scandalous? Not only do we remain ignorant about what Obama was doing that night while Americans were dying in Libya, legions of people employed as journalists wish to keep us ignorant on that score.
Maher's claim about Christie himself closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge was also off the mark. No evidence has surfaced that Christie ordered the action; it came from people in his administration who've long since departed. But Maher was certainly on target in saying the scandal wouldn't warrant nearly as much attention if it involved a Democrat leading a state far from NYC.
Maddow again invoked MSNBC's coverage of the Blagojevich scandal --
MADDOW: I'm going to send you the tapes of me assigning somebody on my staff to impersonate Rod Blagojevich and learn the accent and act it out. I'm sorry, when there are gonzo political corruption stories, you cover them. And the most interesting thing about the Christie one is that we still don't know what happened. It's still not resolved. We still don't have an explanation.
COOKE: Rachel, stories continue all the time. This is a scandal, I agree with Bill on this, we're not going to relitigate Benghazi. This is a scandal and it's been interesting how people have reacted to it because a lot of Republicans immediately said, oh no it's not, or look, there are other scandals. And a lot of more conservative Republicans thought, ah! this is our chance to get rid of him -- and so did MSNBC! I mean, why don't we just come clean? What you've been doing over the last two months is trying to get rid of Chris Christie from the race. This is not as interesting as you think it is.
MADDOW: Wait a minute, why would I be excited to clear Chris Christie from whatever race you mean? I mean, the presidential race ... (as opposed to the Kentucky Derby ...?)
COOKE (dryly): Why would MSNBC want one of the most popular Republicans in the country to be embroiled in scandal for two months and more? (In other words -- you're kidding, right?)
MADDOW: So you think that I've created the bridge story out of whole cloth in order to elect a Democrat (rubs hands mock fiendishly) in 2016?! Wha-ha-ha-ha! (Maher's liberal audience dutifully laughs).
COOKE (holding his ground as Maddow tries to talk over him): No, no, hang on, you asked me a question, you asked me a question. No, I don't think you took anything out of whole cloth. I think there was a lot of cloth there. I just think there are other things going on in the world and the coverage has been ridiculous.
Maddow's exchange with Cooke is a great example of her default tendency toward deceit when she's challenged, which she rarely is when on MSNBC since the politics of her guests seldom deviate from her own. Why would I want to derail Christie, Maddow asks indignantly, offended that anyone would suggest such a bizarre notion. Answer -- you hate Republicans, remember? As does everyone else at MSNBC -- or will you laughably deny that too?
Just as dishonest was Maddow's comparison of Christie to Blagojevich -- now serving a 14-year prison term after he was convicted on multiple corruption charges. Unless and until Christie is actually charged with a crime for involvement in the bridge lane closures, anyone comparing him to Blagojevich quickly pegs herself as an avid MSNBC viewer or employee.