FACTS AND LEGENDS: Little crowd on the prairie!


Interlude—Chris Matthews visits Ford Field: Have we mentioned the fact that cable “news” hosts treat us rubes like baboons?

Consider what happened when a very bad person hosted last evening’s Hardball. As he started, he tickled a key he would tickle all through the program:
MATTHEWS (2/24/12): Mitt was in Detroit today to push his new economic plan, but the optics didn`t help. Check out the scene—1,200 people there at Ford Field where the Lions play football, which means Romney addressed 65,000 empty seats. Who’s the guy’s advance man on this one?
Romney had given a major address about his ridiculous budget proposals. But people like Matthews don’t tire themselves with matters of substance. All through the program, he focused on all the empty seats a person could see as Romney gave his address. Over and over, again and again, he played tape of the empty seats and ridiculed Romney for the “optics:”
MATTHEWS: Well, anyway, at his big economic speech today at Ford Field in Detroit, Mitt Romney spoke to an audience—well, we've got a—of 1,200 people in a football stadium that holds 65,000 people, not the ideal message of a thunderous, overflowing crowd you'd want to see heading into a critical primary, would you.

MATTHEWS: Coming up: Mitt Romney spoke to a crowd of 1,200 today in a football stadium that held, well, 65,000 potentially.

MATTHEWS: Well, here's a totally unfair comparison of dueling stadium speeches and the crowds attending. Take a look. On the left, you see the packed crowd at Invesco Field at Mile High back in 2008, when Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president. It was a full house that night in Denver.

And there on the right, well, that's Romney’s little crowd today at Ford Field in Detroit, all 1,200 of them, and a lot of empty seats in that huge stadium.
Throughout the program, Matthews kept playing that tape, mocking Romney for the optics created when a “little crowd” sits in a large stadium. He even played that tape side-by-side with the tape from Obama’s convention address in 2008. As he played that bit of tape, he even told us baboons, right to our faces, that this was “a totally unfair comparison!”

Over and over, Matthews mocked Romney for the small crowd in the large park. Imagine our surprise an hour later when correspondent Peter Alexander, on NBC Nightly News, offered this explanation:
ALEXANDER (2/24/12): And tonight the Romney campaign insists that it had nothing to do with the decision to hold today’s speech on the field, Brian. The Detroit Economic Club, the host of the event, said they originally planned to hold it in the stadium’s atrium. But the Secret Service, they say, was concerned that the size of the crowd would make that area unsafe so it was decided to move it to the field. But as you know, Brian, in these events stagecraft is often as important as what the candidate himself says.
Really? The event was moved from the atrium to the field because of the Secret Service? We don't know if that is accurate. But matthews made no attemptto explain the pointless matter he flogged throughout the hour.

Later, Rachel Maddow devoted one of her endless, pseudo-professorial segments to this pointless piffle. Note the skillful way she explained away the possible role of the Secret Service, which she said she had to mention:
MADDOW (2/24/12): Booking a 65,000-seat stadium for 1,200 person event. That is not an accident. They knew this was going to happen. There were pictures that ran in the local press before the event took place showing how bad the event was going to look.

Did the Mitt Romney campaign bail on the event? No, they did not. And then to add further injury to injury, they did not even fill the seats that they put there on the field in the first place. Even after jamming everyone in this teeny tiny little sliver of a stadium to try to make it look there was crowd, there were still all sorts of empty-folding chairs.

It should be noted that the Romney’s campaign swears today that this was not their fault. They say because of security concerns with the original location, the Secret Service asked them to relocate, and the surface of the field was the only option at that point. But again, everybody knew way in advance this is what it was going to look like before the event started and they decided to go ahead and stick their candidate in the middle of that anyway.
They should have bailed on the address! The lord god professor has spoken! (Good god, but Maddow is awful…)

By the way: Does it matter if a major economic address is held in a very large stadium? Actually, no—it doesn’t. In even a slightly rational world, people would realize that the content of a major economic address is more important than “the optics.” And the content of Romney’s economic proposals is foolish bordering on insane. But the children who pretend to be a press corps will find any way to avoid such boring discussions. In the morning’s New York Times, the hottest new silly-boy, Michael Barbaro, goes on and on—and on and on—about the troubling optics.

These people don’t like discussing matters of substance. Note again the wonderful way Alexander ended last night’s report, speaking to Brian Williams:
ALEXANDER: But as you know, Brian, in these events stagecraft is often as important as what the candidate himself says.
Really? In these events, stagecraft is often as important as what the candidate himself says? Why in the world would that be the case?
Alexander seemed to think we’d all understand. Brian simply thanked him.

In her pseudo-professorial way, Maddow mentioned a few events of this type involving Candidate McCain in 2008. The chimps are always ready to play, especially if the troubled optics involve a targeted pol. One more flashback: In July 1999, the Secret Service involved itself in a Gore campaign event, an environmental event involving a canoe ride on a river. This too produced some bad optics. The chimps jumped and screeched and flung their poo for a good solid week. At that time, Gore was targeted.

These are very empty souls—and they’re making millions of dollars.
By the way, what did Romney say in that major address? Matthews didn’t go there.

The children are very upset: The children are also very upset by Romney’s remarks about Michigan's trees. Given the chance to speak to a journalist about the economic address, this was Maddow's first question:
MADDOW: Joining us now is Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent for the Washington Post. She`s been traveling with the Mitt Romney in Arizona and Ohio and Michigan. Karen, thank you for being here. It's nice to see you.

TUMULTY: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: Do you have any insight into why he keeps bringing up the height of the trees in Michigan? I thought it was a non-sequitur the first time, but he keeps doing it. Does it mean something?
That was this child's first question.

The children are very stupid. The greatest album we’ve ever heard is the debut album by the McGarrigles. In her glorious coming-of-age song, Talk to Me of Mendocino, the late Kate McGarrigle spoke about trees in the state where she came of age in much the way Romney does:
I bid farewell to the state of ol' New York
My home away from home
In the state of New York I came of age
When first I started roaming
And the trees grow high in New York state
They shine like gold in autumn
Never had the blues from whence I came
But in New York state I caught 'em.
People who hate look for ways to hate. They aren't happy until they find one.


  1. it seeems to me that tv and print journalism should have separate grading scales. i agree that some print people should exercise much more restraint on their style-over-substance knee jerk superficiality. but on tv one only needs to sample the pbs political shows to see how dreadfully boring actual fair and balanced substance-based coverage can be. pbs can get away with it because they dont have to worry about ratings.

    secondly you got fox out their lying at a mile a minute. superficiality is at least more honorable than falsehoods, relatively. its a good thing, not a bad thing, that that msnbc is out there politicking. consider the alternative of completely unchallenged fox cable dominance. the situation is bad enough as it is.

    perhaps romney did say some things said which could have been more effectively used than the optics of the situation. if so then the howlers analysis would be better taken in at least this particular situation. but he didn't specify what they missed. all he said was romneys “ridiculous budget proposals”. but without getting into the nitty gritty of them, it would seem mr. somerby himself fell victim to his own lament of style-over-substance.

  2. Granted our media have done a lousy job coming up with questions for the Republican "debates".
    But most of the answers have been just as bad.
    To many campaign managers and voters, stagecraft IS far more important than the words.
    Bob, why do you keep demanding that others describe objects with your preferred symbols?
    It ain't gonna happen.
    Pols, pundits and reporters are out to please voters, publishers, and editors, not critical readers.

  3. Michael Shear of the New York Times showed that he could be just as inane as Chris Matthews. http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/24/at-a-romney-speech-1200-people-and-65000-seats/?scp=1&sq=romney%20speech%20detroit&st=cse

  4. and another thing...

    you say, "People who hate look for ways to hate. They aren't happy until they find one."

    r u seriously impugning the character of the people fighting the reich wing? u ever heard of hate radio? its been dominating the airwaves hating on liberals (their code for 'non-realamericans') for over twenty years. and theres many times more people listening to them on the radio than all the cable networks put together.

    like a hammer the hate has to be very prudently used, appropriately directed, at the the reactionary elements and the moneyed interests behind them... not at the various factions which are or could be part of the resistance, which unfortunately so often has happened in the last forty years since the new (so-called) 'left' took over the peoples party.

    remember the star trek episode where kirk got spit into two separate people? one was all sweetness and light but no will power and the other was the opposite. guess which one the democratic party is now since they largely gave up on labor forty years ago? labor should be reintegrated back to its former place of prominence within the democratic party.

  5. Yesterday's event in Ford Field is what happens when optics (yes, there, I said it) collide with a unsubstantive speech. I have no problem with the media hammering Romney's campaign on this.

    1. Empty stadium for an empty suit.

    2. A classic example of an image reinforcing the message.

  6. It would be nice if political coverage was something other than theater criticism. Way too often the major questions are "how will this look?" and "how will Americans think this looks?". I know there's that famous Reagan-era quote about how the important thing about a politician's TV appearance is what it looks like with the sound off, but, you know, turn the damn sound on, media people.

    1. And if my grandma had wings she would fly. But she doesn't and she can't. And that's the way the world is.

  7. I certainly agree with Mr. Somerby that the mainstream media's continuous failure to focus on the substance of what these GOP candidates are pushing is deplorable, and should be strongly criticized.

    But I also wonder if he's too dismissive of the psychological (affective) effects of stagecraft, presentation, and spectacle. I believe there are numerous studies out showing how powerfully effective such things can be, particularly on our unconscious or on subconscious levels.

    Brain scientists have also shown how powerful language can be on our we think and act, often in contrast to what we deem our rational understandings and control of it. So I wouldn't completely dismiss the discussion of that empty stadium, though as you say, Romney's plans, which Barbaro and Shear glide over in today's New York Times, really deserve a discussion, since they would blow a huge hole in the deficit, further burden the states with fixed costs, and primarily benefit the wealthy in terms of lowering federal marginal tax rates. This is not a prescription for growth, economic fairness or any sense of a society as we've come to know it.

    My main question always is: why won't Democratic or liberal or progressive politicians call these horrible plans out more? Why are they always so silent? What am I missing? They can walk and chew gum at the same time, so is it that they fear their wealthy supporters will stop funding them? I just don't get the silence, especially given how Republicans' plans have failed so miserably over and over in economic terms, and we have the example of the last Democratic president not only creating 22 million jobs and turning the country around after another Bush drove it into a ditch, but Clinton also presided over a budget surplus and began paying down the debt.

    So why are Democrats--I get the GOP's lies, and the media's complicity in them--so silent about demonstrable, tangible history?

    1. Democratic politicians call out Republican policies all the time. It's the pundits who would rather talk about trivia than engage in a substantive discussion on policy.

      Why? Because it's just a whole lot easier to talk about bungled optics or "decipher" troubling body language or jump on awkwardly-worded comments. Explaining public policy in a way the public would find persuasive and comprehensible, on the other hand, is intellectually challenging work. And they simply don't care enough to make the effort.

    2. Also, they're paid the same either way.

  8. Aside from being vapid, the media criticism wasn't even fair. Several reporters faulted the Romney campaign for showing empty seats. But, that campaign didn't show empty seats (at least, not on TV.) These reporters created a new view, not one that Romney's team had created, and then criticized Romney for the view they themselves had created.

    As you can see from this photo in the NY Times, the Romney team had set up a screen with the attendees and Romney in front of it, so the TV viewers wouldn't have seen the empty seats.

    I'll add my usual whine: the media doesn't do this sort of thing to President Obama.

    1. Remember how you guys guffawed about teleprompters in an elementary school classroom? That was precisely what you're complaining about now.

    2. @ flipyrwhig: zing!

  9. Much of the eastern U.S. tends to grow the same kind of deciduous forest. Off the bat, I wouldn't expect Michigan and Massachusetts to have conspicuously different tree heights. That's why Romney's statement felt odd to me when I first heard of it.

    I still don't know if Romney feels Massachusetts trees are too short or too tall.

  10. I moved to Florida 32 years ago from Pennsylvania. I'm glad I did overall but when people asked me right from the beginning what I missed the most. It was the trees. Those giant trees and the beautiful canopy they provided. I had to get to used to my new geography but the missing trees was the most difficult. I don't want Romney to be president but I "got" what he was saying.