Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Scarborough Clownery

"[T]his is the problem with punditry, that an uninformed opinion has exactly the same power as evidence."
-- Eric Alterman, U.S. Comedy Arts Festival 2005 ("Industry Seminar: Wag The Debate – What’s the Future of The Pundity?") Feb. 12, 2005 (p. 41)(pdf format).
An Associated Press report rounding the nation is that Republicans are asking former Pensacola congressman and current cable TV pundit Joe Scarborough to run next year against U.S. Senator Bill Nelson. The White House and party poobahs, as the Washington Post has reported, are worried that the only announced G.O.P. candidate for the GOP nomination, Katherine Harris, has negatives that top off all Florida politicians' leaderboards.

Local reporter Lesley Conn ferrets out one small fact in the Pensacola News Journal that no one else seems to have noticed:
"Another issue to resolve: 'Scarborough Country,' the 2½-year-old MSNBC talk show that Scarborough hosts from Pensacola. His contract ends in March ... ."
If he were to run, Scarborough undoubtedly would have the full-throated, rich-fisted backing of the White House and GOP campaign donors. The mere possibility will persuade a lot of Harris' potential campaign contributors to sit on their wallets for awhile.

Meanwhile, Scarborough also can parlay all the political talk into a hefty increase in his renewed MSNBC contract -- if he wants to do so. Struggling against its farther-to-the-right competitor, MSNBC can hardly afford right now to lose a popular show like "Scarborough Country."

Two other elements may be at work. For one thing, Harris greatly embarrassed herself the other night on one of Fox Cable News' screaming heads programs by adopting -- let's be discrete, here -- a grotesquely unnatural and openly flirtatious posture for Sean Hannity and and fake-liberal Alan Colmes. The episode was so bizarre that state Republicans must be wondering what kind of a mental midget they've sent to Washington and why in the world they would want to keep her there.

News Hounds ("We watch Fox so you don't have to") headlined the story 'Katherine Harris Shakes Her Boobies'. You can see the video yourself on Crooks and Liars.

Jon Stewart of The Daily Show drew huge guffaws from the audience just by showing the clip, raising a single eyebrow, and mentioning that Harris and "her two running mates" were interviewed. Even the gossipy Wonkette -- who is no enemy of D.C. Republicans -- had something snarky to say.

For a second thing, there are some faint signs that Scarborough may be feeling a little soiled after working the Cable TV circuit the past few years. Last February, he chaired a panel discussion for American To be sure, the conference was titled "The U.S. Comedy Arts Festival" and the inspiration was the Peabody award-winning Daily Show. But the panel debate was a fairly serious one.

The panel was discussing "What's The Future of the Pundity"? A transcript is available here.

Maybe it was the Aspen air, maybe it was all the Democrats he had to sit with at the table, but reading between the lines it's obvious that Scarborough was weighted with misgivings about the value of what he presently does for a living. Here are just a few suggestive lines that pop out on first reading:
  • "When MSNBC first hired me, [my wife] said, “Don’t be a clown, I want you to be Tim Russert.” (p. 9)

  • "What a lot of pundits always ask themselves is, is anybody listening, is anybody watching." (p. 11)

  • "I don’t think progressives watch cable news as much as – you know, I had somebody from Fox News tell me one time when I started my show – they said, 'We really don’t care what happens east of the Hudson or west of Las Vegas. We’re going for red state America, and that’s how we’re going to build this into the top show.' And I’ll be darned if, four years later, that formula didn’t work. So I think again that’s what the focus has been. And maybe some of the more progressive pundits wouldn’t play as well with the people that turn on cable news as much. I don’t think they’re watching O’Reilly on the Upper West Side, as much as they are in Kansas City." (p. 33)

  • "[P]eople watch Fox News, but then when the tsunami hits, CNN’s numbers go through the roof. On the State of the Union, a lot of people turn to Matthews. I mean, people are smart enough to figure out what they’re going to get when they go to Fox News." (pp. 32-33)

  • "I think... if I say something stupid – it used to be a couple years ago, if I said something stupid, which is every night, my wife would meet me at the back door and just shake her head and go to bed." (p. 33)

  • "[I]s nuance going to move to the cable audience? Because we’re talking about the cable audience. Forgetting about what’s happening on PBS, forgetting about what’s happening in the New York Times. Are you talking about is that sort of nuanced debate going to take over cable news or move to talk radio?(p. 34)
At times, one supposes, everyone must be assailed by doubts about the worth of what he or she is doing. Nearly everyone, too, at least considers a career change from time to time. Joe Scarborough certainly has. He's been a musician, a lawyer, a congressman, and a Cable TV pundit, among other things.

The question of the day now is, do you think he's sick enough about what he has been doing to reenter the political arena? Or, would a fat new contract with MSNBC keep him happy as a clown?

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