Following in the shoes of fellow NBC News employee Brian Williams, John Heilemann has entered the world of crude humor. Appearing on MSNBC’s Now with Alex Wagner on Monday, Heilemann was brought on to discuss the political dynamics of Wednesday’s first presidential debate.
The segment itself was fairly tame for MSNBC standards until Heilemann compared the current election to the 1996 election between President Bill Clinton and Senator Bob Dole. In Heilemann’s strange mind the only way Dole could have won that year was: [See video below break. MP3 audio here.]
...if Clinton had a heart attack on stage or an intern wandered up in the middle of it and testified that Clinton had diddled her in the middle of the budgets.
Host Alex Wagner didn’t seem too shocked by such disgusting comments as she commented, “wow, two minutes in and the word diddled has come up.” It’s sad when the cable arm of a major news outlet sees such crude humor as commonplace on their network.
The days of the respectable and professional journalist seem to have been replaced by crude sex jokes disguised as insightful political commentary.
See relevant transcript below.
NOW with Alex Wagner
October 1, 2012
12:00 p.m. EDT
ALEX WAGNER: Joining me today, Emmy darling, MSNBC Political Analyst and National Affairs Editor for New York Magazine John Heilemann, Huffington Post Washington Bureau Chief Ryan Grim, author and co-creator of The Daily Show Liz Winsted and Rolling Stone Executive Editor Eric Baits. Welcome to bizarro world. Ramping up for the first debate each campaign is showering praise on the opposition in the hopes of lowering the bar for themselves. Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan gushed over President Obama's skills on the debate stage.
PAUL RYAN: President Obama is a very -- he's a very gifted speaker. The man's been on the national stage for many years. He's an experienced debater.
WAGNER: Shockingly, senior White House Adviser David Plouffe had the same feelings about Governor Mitt Romney.
DAVID PLOUFFE: We'd expect it all along that Governor Romney will have a good night. He's prepared more than any candidate in history and he’s shown himself to be a very very good debater through the years.
WAGNER: Even the candidates themselves were tamping down expectations yesterday.
MITT ROMNEY: I don't think anyone would suggest the debates aren't important. I can't tell you how important it will be. I don't know what will happen at the debates.
BARACK OBAMA: Governor Romney he’s a good debater. I'm just okay.
WAGNER: The soft-sell on debate performances has gotten so soft it has almost evaporated. Politico’s Ben White tweets, “pre-debate flack spin: I’ll just be happy if my guy doesn’t vomit blood and flat out murder our opponent with an axe.” But while almost everyone seems to be muting enthusiasm in trying to undersell New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is taking a different tack. Overselling with gusto.
CHRIS CHRISTIE: Come Thursday morning, the entire narrative of this race is going to change. We have a candidate who is going to do extraordinarily well on Wednesday night. When we get to Thursday morning George, all of you are going to be shaking your heads saying it's a brand new race with 33 days to go.
WAGNER: Governor Christie right in the sense that Romney needs to change the dynamic of the race. Polls showing Romney as the underdog just might work in his favor. A new Washington Post/ABC News survey finds 55 percent of voters think the president will win the debates compared to 31 percent who believe Romney will win. Romney advisers tell The New York Times they're aiming to make the president come off as condescending or smug. That characterized Obama's most notable debate gaffe during the 2008 primary when rival Hillary Clinton was asked what she would say to voters who seemed to like Barack Obama more.
HILLARY CLINTON: He's very likable. I agree with that. I don't think I'm that bad.
OBAMA: You're likable enough, Hillary.
CLINTON: Thank you.
WAGNER: In Governor Romney's 23 debate performances during the republican primary his biggest weaknesses showed when he allowed competitors to get und her is skin prompting irritated Mittfrintaions or off script moments that gave a new meaning to the hash tag awkward.
MITT ROMNEY: Anderson –
RICK PERRY: You said that you knew.
ROMNEY: Would you please wait? Are you just going to deep talking?
PERRY: Yes, sir.
ROMNEY: Are you going to let me finish what I have to say. I'm running for office for Pete’s sake I can't have illegals.
JOHN KING: When you release yours will you follow your father's examples?
ROMNEY: Maybe. You know, I don't know how many years I'll release. I'll take a look at what our documents are. You asked me an entirely different question.
WAGNER: Wow. John Heilemann, I can't get enough of the semi vintage Romney debate clips but want to know as a resident expert on all things campaign related having written a book, a little book called Game Change. How does this, the pressure that is on Mitt Romney to turn this thing around on a single night in an hour and a half, seems disproportionate to anything we've seen in modern politics? Do you agree with that? How off base am I?
JOHN HEILEMANN: Well first I want to start by saying given the quality of the panel here today I want to try to set expectations really low for myself. I looked at this group and I thought if I can get through this today without actually passing out, dying on the floor, victory for me.
WAGNER: Without vomiting blood.
HEILEMANN: Without vomiting blood.
WAGNER: You did it last week and it was okay. But anyway, going ahead.
HEILEMANN: Chris Christie is speaking truth the other day. I don't really like the expectations game very much. It’s an important debate. Mitt Romney’s behind. And what Chris Christie said, not the part about how it it's going to be a whole new race the next day, but he’s basically saying look this really matters for Mitt Romney. And, you know, we've been talking about it for two weeks now. The Romney campaign knows that they are on the wrong side of the battleground polling, they're -- we've seen a little bit of tightening in some of the national polling just in the last couple days. But he has to move the needle in some way. And it's not unprecedented in the history of presidential politics but there's a -- this race looks a lot like -- I have people that have been analogizing it to the Bob Dole/Bill Clinton race in 1996. I covered that race and by the time you got to the first debate in that race, Republicans said they were abandoning Dole. That race was actually a slightly more accelerated schedule of desperation and people bailing out, the rats leaving the sinking ship, but it was a similar kind of thing. Dole came into that first debate and the only possible way he was going to win was you know if Clinton had a heart attack on stage or an intern wandered up in the middle of it and testified that Clinton had diddled her in the middle of the budgets.
WAGNER: Wow, two minutes in and the word diddled has come up.
HEILEMANN: Yes, that’s right, but none happened and the race was therefore over. Romney, it’s a similar kind of situation. Romney needs to change the game and so the pressure -- I think it's a very high stakes moment for him and a very high pressure moment for him too.