Last night, Rachel Maddow sparred with former Bush speechwriter/National Review contributor David Frum, after Frum thought he'd cleverly ambush Maddow with the accusation that she was contributing to the low tone of the political discourse.
MADDOW: You have publicly stated some reservations about John McCain and criticisms about the way his campaign is run, even though you have also said that you will vote for him. One quote I wanted to ask you about. You said, "Those who press this Ayers line of attack are whipping Republicans and conservatives into a fury that's going to be very hard to calm after November." What do you mean by that, in that word, "fury."
FRUM: Well, I think that you were talking through much of the show about the matter of tone in our politics. And yet, we are seeing, I think, an intensification of the ugliness of tone that has been a feature of American politics for the past eight years. I mean, this show, unfortunately, is an example of that problem.
Basically, Frum objected to Maddow's injection of humor and sarcasm into her show as an example of how political culture was circling the drain. Maddow, obviously, had some disagreement with this contention, suggesting that her use of comic effect was not in any way equivalent to say...calling for someone's head on the campaign trail.
Of course, Frum seems to have a problem with political comedy in general. Back in July, he took to his "Diary" to caterwaul over the way Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert treat the conversation:
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert obviously see themselves as something more than ordinary funny men. Recall Stewart's memorable scolding of Crossfire for hurting America; remember Stephen Colbert's preachy appearance at the White House correspondents dinner. They think something is very wrong with cable news, and so they satirize that wrong.
In making their point, they themselves violate every kind of journalistic ethical rule. They say, "It's OK for us - we're fake news." That's a convenient excuse. But it's not really an adequate one.
Yes! It's almost as if The Daily Show and the Colbert Report have an established, intrinsic comedic conventions that are a thing apart from the two men's appearances in all other fora! And because they don't adhere to those conventions ALL THE TIME, like on Crossfire, or at the Duane Reade, they are violating some journalistic ethics.
Frum went on to say:
A few days ago, Colbert scoffed at my friend David Brooks for referring to the "salad bar" at Applebee's - when Applebee's doesn't feature salad bars. An error - how ridiculous! But conscious fabrication? I guess that's OK, so long as it's done in the sacred name of comedy.
Speaking of conscious fabrication done in the "sacred names" of things, the bloggers at Sadly, No! would like to know why this conscious fabrication was deployed in the sacred name of advertising the National Review! I'd be interested in hearing if Frum actually believes that "Gore-type environmental[ism]" is really about "taking cars away" and "stop[ping] the trend of American life." Actually, is Frum capable of associating himself with a statement on Al Gore that's not some sort of ridiculous fabrication? Just wondering!
Anyway, Maddow demonstrates respectful restraint in her own defense. Really, if she had wanted to deploy some lowball humor at Frum's expense, she could have pointed out that the way Frum hunched himself forward, grimacing and closing his eyes as if he was girding himself, made him look like a constipated man heroically battling to pop a squat. That would have been lowball and disrespectful! Still wouldn't have been the equivalent of dressing a monkey up in an Obama sticker, or yelling "Treason!" in a crowded hall!
Also on the show, Maddow had this to say about Sarah Palin's contention that she has been exonerated by the Troopergate scandal: "Day is night, up is down. This isn't one of those differences of opinion things, a question of interpretation. The report says she broke ethics laws, and she says the report doesn't say that. She is lying. This is a person who is running for office who's been confronted with an uncomfortable and inconvenient fact, and her response to that is to look into the camera and lie to you. Enthusiastically and repeatedly. I know I'm not supposed to use that particular L-word...but sometimes the most important thing you need to know about a politician is the frequency and enthusiasm and skill with which they lie to you."