Rush Limbaugh has begun humorously describing MSNBC as "government-controlled television." Trying to watch coverage of President Obama’s Cairo speech on MSNBC last night would certainly give you that impression. Obama’s speech was so impressive that not only were mouths agape in amazement in Afghanistan, Rachel Maddow’s official critical reaction was exactly these words: "Dude, no way. He said what? Huh-uh. Dude, come again. Dude? Did he really just say that?"
The American audience was rocked because Obama "hit them with hard truths and you want to make them fall over." She also compared the speech to an incredible fireworks display. First, Maddow ran footage of NBC’s Richard Engel from the evening newscast:
MADDOW: Our friend, Richard Engel, NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent, watched the speech in Afghanistan and described to "Nightly News" tonight the way he saw Afghans reacting to the speech.
RICHARD ENGEL: A lot of people in Kabul and across the Islamic world simply had their mouths open when they were listening to this speech. They couldn‘t believe what they were hearing. They have not heard this kind of language from an American president.
MADDOW: And it‘s not just in the Muslim world. Judging from the media reaction today in the United States, the American audience for this speech appears to be rocked back on its heels as well -- which is exactly where you want an audience if you‘re about to hit them with hard truths and you want to make them fall over.
Then she was stunned that Obama was so frank that he talked of an American role in the Mossadegh takeover in Iran:
Wow. He just admitted that the U.S. overthrew the Iranian government in 1953. If you were at the state fair and this was a fireworks display, at this point, you might turn to the person next to you and say, "Wow, can you believe that? What an incredible finale. No topping that, time to go home." The thing is, this fireworks display was just getting started.
Later, she adored this passage about 9/11 and the Obama admitting the U.S. tortured:
OBAMA: 9/11 was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable. But in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideas. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year.
MADDOW: For those of you keeping score at home, that would be, dude, no way. He said what? Huh-uh. Dude, come again. Dude? Did he really just say that?
She counted off eight amazing things Obama said that were the "third rail" of Middle East politics, so the "Dude" reactions came with her counting on eight fingers.
She followed up with an interview with former Jimmy Carter adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski : "When the president took time and he went into both of these issues in some detail, he took time to debunk both 9/11 and deniers of the Holocaust, and then announced pointedly that he was on his way to Buchenwald next. Is there a reason to believe that he thinks that those issues are holding back political progress—that those specific sort of conspiracies and misconceptions about modern political history are part of the problem in terms of moving forward?"
Maddow did not consider that President Bush also decried Holocaust denial and 9/11 conspiracy theories, so is he somehow utterly unique? But how clumsily can Maddow put it, that the president "debunked" 9/11? That makes Obama sound like a conspiracy-theorist, not an opponent of conspiracy theorists.
NBC’s Richard Engel also showed up on The Ed Show hours earlier to tout the Cairo speech:
ED SCHULTZ: Richard, I understand you listened to the speech in Arabic. How did it play? How did it translate, in your opinion?
RICHARD ENGEL: It translated very well, Ed. It was clearly designed to be translated. It was broadcast live on all of the major Arabic language networks, Egyptian state television.
And he was using all of the key tools of Arabic rhetoric. There was a lot of flattery involved, many references to history, and extensive use of Islam. All of these are common in the Arabic world. It sounded very much like an Arabic speech that was given by a well-spoken leader in the Arabic world.
The location was also highly significant. Cairo, being the cultural and media capital of the Middle East, and from the Cairo University, which has seen so many important graduates leave that great rotunda where he spoke, including the Nobel Prize winner for literature, the Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz, and many politicians, even some controversial, like Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein have all studied there.
So it was the right city. It was a place of great symbolic importance and it was used—the speech was carried out in translation in Arabic very effectively, Ed.
According to Engel, "all of the commentators" he saw on Arabic-language networks (all of them) described Obama’s address as a historic watershed:
It was described by people that I spoke to today, and all of the commentators that I listened to on a variety of Arabic language networks, as historic, as a potential turning point. This speech will actually be the focus of a major debate show tomorrow on al Jazeera. Al Jazeera is the main Arabic language broadcaster here. Their program, similar to "Meet the Press," and they‘re billing it as a potential turning point, a potential new beginning for relations between the United States and the Muslim world. It was something that many in this part of the world had been waiting for.
How can people watch this, and not see MSNBC bathed in the glow of utter servility?