And clips a favorite quote: When people tell stories on cable news shows, should their stories be accurate?
On Thursday night, Rachel Maddow told one of her favorite tales. But the story wasn’t true on February 1, when she built a long opening segment around it. And it wasn’t true Thursday night.
In and of itself, this particular story isn’t hugely important. Maddow likes the story because it lets her roll her eyes at Those Impossibly Stupid Republicans.
That said, the story just isn’t accurate. Back in February, it took us about two minutes to determine that fact.
Background: In 1994, satirist Lalo Alcaraz created a very funny character as a way of opposing California’s Proposition 187, the ballot measure which sought to deny state services to undocumented residents. The character’s name was Daniel D. Portado.
Supposedly, Portado was head of a conservative anti-immigration group, Hispanics Against Liberal Takeover (HALTO). The goal of the group was to supervise the self-deportation of California Hispanics.
On February 1, Maddow spent a great deal of time on this topic. (Alcaraz appeared for an interview.) Last night, she revisited the topic during her program’s first segment.
Her premise was the same each time. According to Maddow, Alcaraz invented a satirical term, “self-deportation,” in 1994. But Governor Pete Wilson was so clueless that he didn’t get the joke, which was aimed at himself.
As a result, he began using the satirical term himself!
Last night, Maddow rolled her eyes, once again, at Wilson’s pitiful cluelessness. To watch this full segment, click here:
MADDOW (6/21/12): It’s political satire at its very best, right? And like all of the very best political satire, it’s close enough to something that seems like a perversion of the truth that some people actually didn’t get the joke—like for example California’s Republican governor Pete Wilson, who was a specific target of that satire. He did not get the joke.Wilson failed to understand the satirical origins of the term, “self-deportation!” And sure enough! Last night, as she neared the nine-minute mark, Maddow played tape of Candidate Romney using the same term this year.
In an interview with the New York Times columnist William Safire in 1994, Mr. Wilson explained without irony that the goal of Prop 187 was, in fact, self-deportation. “You will self-deport.” He used exactly the phrase that was being used as satire about him without understanding its satirical origins.
Incredibly, Romney has missed the joke too! How dumb, how clueless can these people be? In her standard mega-self-confident way, Maddow drove home the shiv:
MADDOW: “Self-deportation!” Invented by brilliant Latino satirists in California making fun of anti-immigrant Republicans, now being embraced, apparently completely without irony, by anti-immigrant Republicans. Pete Wilson was that guy in the 1990s. Mitt Romney is that guy right now.These fellows have no sense of irony! In February, Maddow built her entire opening segment around this snark-laden premise. Last night, her first nine minutes were based on this idea.
Sadly, her premise is wrong. Alcaraz did some very funny work in 1994—but he didn’t invent the term “self-deportation.” The term had been in use since at least 1988, when it first appears in the current Nexis archives.
In February, it took us about two minutes to establish this fact, though we didn’t do a post on the topic. How did we come by this arcane knowledge? We engaged in a practice called “fact-checking.”
This practice was devised long ago. The practice is routinely avoided on Maddow’s fact-challenged program.
Was “self-deportation” invented in 1994, as a satirical term? Did Pete Wilson fail to get the joke? Sorry. Within the current Nexis archives, the term first appears in February 1988, used in an AP report about a Taiwanese dissident. (“Immigration officials said Hsu agreed to self-deportation, meaning he would be free to return to the Philippines.”)
In September of that year, the term appeared in the Boston Globe, used by Frank Sharry, an immigration rights activist in Boston. ("The Immigration and Naturalization Service in this area is not nearly as aggressive as it is in other areas," Sharry was quoted saying. "They seem to hope employer sanctions will squeeze people out of work and force them to self-deport.")
In 1990, the term appeared in the New York Times, in a report about a Canadian NHL player who had immigration problems in the United States. (“If he leaves the United States to play a game in Canada, his action will constitute voluntary self-deportation, and he will not be allowed to return, said James Montgomery, district director of the Detroit office of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service.”)
By 1992, the term was being used in the Washington Post in a report on Marlene Chalmers Cooke, the flamboyant, Bolivian-born wife of Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke. (“Cooke ran into a problem, however, when she left the country briefly on a trip before that appeal was resolved, the sources said. ‘It was in effect a self-deportation,’ said one source.”)
Duh. “Self-deportation” was part of official immigration-speak long before 1994. (We’ve presented four examples from a larger selection.) Earlier this year, it took us about two minutes to establish this fact.
But Maddow has a story she likes. Perhaps believing her story is true, she told it again last night.
In her story, Wilson and Romney are laughable dummies who didn’t know that the term was invented for satirical use. In fact, it’s Maddow herself who has erred about the origins of this term, in two long presentations in which she poured on the snark and displayed vast self-assurance.
In itself, this doesn’t hugely matter—but Maddow always has to be fact-checked. And uh-oh! In the course of Thursday’s report, she made a more significant error. She quoted Romney in a way which was plainly misleading.
The short, clipped quote was cadged from a GOP debate on February 22. Below, you see the tape Maddow played from that debate, which was hosted by CNN’s John King live and direct from Arizona.
As she introduced the tape, Maddow told viewers that Romney praised Arizona’s controversial immigration law as a model for the nation:
MADDOW (6/21/12): That hugely controversial, hugely divisive legislation in Arizona, constitutional or not, is seen by presidential candidate Mitt Romney, he says, as a model for the nation.If you believe what you see on this program, that was the end of Romney’s statement. As presented, the tape makes it seem like Romney was endorsing Arpaio’s draconian approach. Maddow specifically said that Romney was endorsing the controversial Arizona law as a model for the nation.
(Start of videotape)
KING: Should there be aggressive, seek-them-out, find them and arrest them, as Sheriff Arpaio advocates?
ROMNEY: You know, I think you see a model here in Arizona.
(End of videotape)
But if you review Romney’s full statement, that just isn’t what he said. Below, you see his full response to King. What was he praising as “a model?” He was referring to the use of E-Verify, a federal program which Obama semi-endorses:
KING: Should there be aggressive, seek them out, find them and arrest them, as the Sheriff Arpaio advocates?Implicitly, Romney endorsed the Arizona law, saying he’d drop the lawsuit against it. But when he said “I think you see a model here in Arizona,” he was talking about the use of E-Verify, not the controversial Arizona law.
ROMNEY: You know, I think you see a model here in Arizona. They passed a law here that says—that says that people who come here and try and find work, that the employer is required to look them up on E-Verify. This E-Verify system allows employers in Arizona to know who's here legally and who's not here legally.
And as a result of E-Verify being put in place, the number of people in Arizona that are here illegally has dropped by some 14 percent, where the national average has only gone down 7 percent. So going back to the question that was asked, the right course for America is to drop these lawsuits against Arizona and other states that are trying to do the job Barack Obama isn't doing.
And I will drop those lawsuits on day one. I'll also complete the fence. I'll make sure we have enough border patrol agents to secure the fence. And I will make sure we have an E-Verify system and require employers to check the documents of workers, and to check E-Verify. And if an employer hires someone that has not gone through E-Verify, they're going to get sanctioned just like they do for not paying their taxes.
You do that, and just as Arizona is finding out, you can stop illegal immigration. It's time we finally did it.
(Beyond that, he wasn’t endorsing Arpaio’s draconian approach. In theory, E-Verify leads to so-called self-deportation as it becomes hard to find work. This replaces the need for Arpaio’s approach, the method King asked about.)
Whatever you think of Romney’s immigration views (or lack of same), that’s what he said that night. Maddow routinely plays the shortened quote; she then tells viewers that Romney was recommending the controversial Arizona law as a model for the nation.
(How tightly clipped is Maddow’s quote? On her videotape, you can see Romney’s lips continuing to move as he’s cut after just eleven words. This is often a clue.)
On Wednesday night, Lawrence O’Donnell did a very good segment in which he savaged Sean Hannity for clipping a quote of Obama’s in a similar way. Granted, he mainly played tape of Jon Stewart nailing Hannity for the clip job.
Hannity’s clip job was worse than Maddow’s. But as MSNBC keeps chasing Fox, it seems the leaders of our warring tribes may be reaching some points of agreement.
In each tribe, our leaders enjoy telling us things which aren’t true, preferably with plenty of attitude. And they like to clip the quotes of the other tribe’s leaders.
Alcaraz didn’t invent the term “self-deportation,” although his work was very sharp and very funny. But so what! It feels good to say that he did—to mock the dummies who are so dumb that they didn’t and still don’t realize.
Fact-checking is a major pain. Increasingly, this is a third major point on which warring leaders agree.
The greatest love of all: Maddow’s strangest segment Thursday night was her last, in which she rampaged through the fields chasing Scott Brown again.
Segments like this are very strange. This kind of work is very bad for our tribe’s intellectual health.
Also, note the way Maddow continues to name-drop her own name in this segment. (This seems to be her favorite pastime.) In the segment, she hammers Brown for disguised forms of bragging.
Further agreement! We’d have to say that she was engaged in a form of this practice herself!