Meet the Press has been jumping all over the schedule. Sure, they're using the excuse of some sporting event in Italy, but we know the real reason is they're trying to elude Russert Watch. But there we were -- if a little foggy -- at 6 a.m. (I know you can TiVo it, but it's a slippery slope. First you TiVo it, then you just don't watch it.)
As it happens, I wasn't sure I had entirely woken up today. Indeed, I felt locked in a horrible nightmare -- because today's installment was a true horror show.
If you tuned in, you already know what I'm talking about: Mary Matalin.
Oh my God.
Let's start with the unavoidable: what was she wearing? First, the brooch. Or was it a sculpture? Or was it perhaps some bizarre new NSA listening device? It was so, well, there, that hard as you tried you could not avert your eyes from it.
And then there was the black Asian pajama top to match the black eye makeup and the scarlet red nails to match the scarlet red lips. It was impossible to watch her without thinking of Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. And then there was her manner, which was so incredibly nasty that it was hard to focus on her ludicrous talking points.
Her counterparts on the roundtable were Maureen Dowd, David Gregory and Paul Gigot. At the top of the show, Tim announced that these four would "square off."
But the segment began with Tim basically giving Mary the first third to lay out her side of the story. It was bad enough to just have an administration mouthpiece on to regurgitate talking points, but why not allow -- in old Meet the Press fashion -- the journalists to question her? Maybe Mary demanded some solo time, but, if so, it didn't serve her boss well.
The impact of her appearance was to make the whole story seem even less under control than having a beer and shooting your friend in the face. As for what she said, there were so many intelligence-insulting lies and half-truths it's hard to know where to start.
There was her claim that there was not even the implication that Whittington himself was somehow to blame for the incident. And yet we have Katherine Armstrong saying last Monday that it was "incumbent" on Whittington to announce himself when he rejoined the group. "He did not do that."
And why did they take so long to put out a story?
MATALIN: We wanted to take our time. Speak to the sheriff so we'd have the voice of authority. Have Katharine be able to share with other witnesses, and she could be an eyewitness.
Oh, and because "there were differing accounts, and there was mass confusion."
Mass confusion? What does that mean? And how did the "mass confusion" resolve itself in the 18 hours it took them to tell the country that the vice president had shot a man?
Then there was Matalin's claim that the reason the local authorities were turned away from interviewing Cheney was because of "national security" considerations. Really? The Secret Service was worried that the sheriff's deputy interviewing Cheney would harm our national security?
Then there was her claim that "these sorts of accidents are not infrequent."
Actually, that's precisely what they are. Infrequent.
As DavidNYC at Kos points out:
In Texas, over the last decade, only one hunter in 26,000 has been involved in a hunting accident.
In 2005, only one in 36,000 was involved in a hunting accident.
In fact, there were 1.1 million hunting licenses issued in Texas last year but only 30 reported accidents.
Given that this was obviously going to be one of Matalin's claims, one would think that Tim might have some stats like these at the ready. Instead, Matalin's repeated assertion about how this was just another ordinary day of Texas hunting was allowed to stand unchallenged.
Then there was Mary's allusion to something called the "culture of rural enforcement," and the implication that the elite Eastern press just didn't get it. But if Mary and Dick are so in tune with the Texas "culture of rural enforcement," why were the local officers turned away? It seems that the "culture of rural enforcement" in Texas was operating pretty much like the "culture of urban enforcement."
Then there was Mary's use -- twice -- of the bizarre term "presumption of accident," which was never explained, but which wouldn't be a bad slogan for the entire administration.
Then there was her cockeyed answer to the fact that Armstrong's claim that there had been "no, zero, zippo" alcohol was later contradicted by the vice president himself, who admitted he'd had "a beer" at lunch: "What Katharine Armstrong was answering," Matalin said, "is a literal fact going to the question she was asked, which is always the case on the Armstrong ranch. You don't drink and hunt, and you don't hunt with drinkers."
Then there was her assertion that the real problem here is that the press just doesn't have enough empathy for the vice president. She contrasted the press with "normal people" "who have a full complement of human empathy."
In fact, a modicum of human empathy -- forget a full complement -- is what this vice president notoriously lacks.
Then there was her shock -- unintentionally revealing -- that the vice president is expected to abide by such plebeian considerations as "rules" -- indeed "conventional rules":
"The problem with these rules," she said, "is that they're presumed to be inviolate. This vice president, who is logical and who is human, was not following the conventional rule, but he wasn't doing anything that was irrational, that's for sure."
I could go on and on, but to get the full effect, you had to see not just what Mary said, but how she said it. She was dripping with contempt and sarcasm, parroting anything said by the other panelists in a teenage sing-song imitation complete with the liberal use of air quotes. Note to the vice president: if you're in a situation in which you feel like you need a little more empathy from the American people, and want them to see you as human, you might want to reconsider handing the job to Mary Matalin. It's hard to believe that the VP's 29-percent approval rating didn't plummet by the time her performance was over.
David Gregory, for his part, opened up with a strange, prepared mea culpa about his exchange with Scott McClellan:
I think I made a mistake. I think it was inappropriate for me to lose my cool with the press secretary representing the president. I don't think it was professional of me. I was frustrated, I said what I said, but I think that you should never speak that way, as my wife reminded me, number one. And number two, I think it created a diversion from some of the serious questions in the story, so I regret that. I was wrong, and I apologize.
Why are all the good guys apologizing? Harry Whittington apologizes. Harry Reid apologizes. Dick Durbin apologizes. And now David Gregory apologizes. Why? Gregory's a reporter. McClellan was being a jerk. So why the apology?
In any case, it turns out the apology didn't matter much to Mary, as you can see from this exchange:
GREGORY: The vice president's office doesn't feel an obligation to disclose that to the American people directly. You do it through a ranch owner in Texas? It just -- it just strikes me as odd.
MATALIN: It strikes you as odd because you live in a parallel universe....
GREGORY: If you thought he did everything right... why did you do a big national interview this week?
MATALIN: Because you went on a jihad, David. For four days you went on a Jihad.
GREGORY: And that's an unfortunate use of that word, by the way. This is not what that was.
Her reply (said with as much contempt as is humanly possible): "Oh, OK. All right. How -- were you saving up for that line?"
So much for empathy and humanization.
Maureen Dowd chose to take the high ground. Classy, in a silk beige top and pale fingernails, she did not rise to the bait even when Matalin called her "the diva of the smart set." And she looked calmly on, even when Matalin parroted her words the way squabbling kindergartners do.
And most important, she succinctly explained why Cheney's handling of the shooting mattered:
The reason this story has evoked such fascination is because the vice president is like the phantom. You know, we hear the creak of the door as he passes, but we don't really know what he's up to. We don't know his schedule. We don't always know where he is. We don't know what democratic institution he's blowing off at any given minute, and so this allowed us to see how his behavior and judgment operated pretty much in real time -- with the delay, but pretty much in real time. ... And it covered all the problems of the Bush/Cheney administration: secrecy and stonewalling, then blowing off the rules that are at the heart of our democracy, then using a filter to try and put the truth out in a way that would most suit their political needs, and then bad political judgment in bungling a crisis. I mean, if there's one thing the Republicans are great at since Reagan, it's damage control. But he is such a control freak, you know, he doesn't even care about the damage. ... Mary, it isn't only the press. He blows off the FISA courts, he blows off the Geneva Conventions, he blows off the U.N. to go to Iraq. He wants to blow off everything. He's got a fever about presidential erosion just the way he had a fever about going into Iraq.
If Dowd's point was that the vice president might not have the greatest respect for "the rules that are at the heart of our democracy," then her point was confirmed when the vice president's stooge sarcastically echoed the phrase.
This whole fracas was caused not by the vice president shooting somebody, but by his stonewalling, secrecy and contempt for transparency after the shooting -- by the fact that, as always, he retreated to his bunker.
If Cheney really wants to repair his reputation, he should start by inviting Mary into the bunker and keeping her there.
Update: Mary Matalin's performance was universally panned in the blogosphere. Check out:
firedoglake: Crazy Mary Does Timmeh
"Quite the bravura performance, complete with wacky foil flower badge and everything."
The Left Coaster: Matalin Trots Out The J-Word All Too Easily
"If you watched Meet the Press this morning, you got to see a prime example of how this administration's defenders manage to equate criticism and dissent with terrorism."
Think Progress: Cheney Advisor Won't Say If "A Beer" Is "Literally One Beer"
"What's puzzling is that Matalin insists its a 'literal fact' that Cheney doesn't 'drink and hunt' even though he has admitted to drinking before hunting."
AMERICAblog: Matalin is crankier and nastier than usual on MTP
"Matalin had to spin extra hard today trying to defend Cheney."
Sirotablog: After DUIs, Should We Really "Presume" Cheney "Doesn't Drink?"
"Cheney advisor Mary Matalin claimed that the public should be 'presuming what we all know, that [Cheney] doesn't drink.' I don't think we should presume that about anyone who has already admitted to drinking before the hunting accident in question."
Hullabaloo: The Beltway's Madwoman of Chaillot*
"You really have to wonder who is ever going to be dumb enough to ever hire Mary Matalin again? This shooting mess was clearly her deal and she couldn't have fucked it up worse than she did."
Talking Points Memo: On Meet the...
"Matalin claimed that Vice President Cheney never sent surrogates out to blame Harry Whittington for last weekend's hunting accident... How can she be serious when she was one of the lead surrogates sent out to do just that?"
"When people lie to you that obviously and blatantly you stop having them on. Matalin doesn't even have an official position in the Bush administration so there's literally no excuse."
Oliver Willis: Meet The Press? Nah, Just Matalin
"Man, they just let Mary Matalin - an official flack for the Bushies - yammer on unopposed forever today, didn't they? Must be that liberal media I keep hearing about."
UPDATE: Reader Andrea offers this reworked gem of Matalin as Evil Queen Maleficent: