Morning Joe Reads A Book

morning joe

Or maybe he got someone else to read it for him? In any case, the New York Times Sunday Book Review asked Joe Scarborough to review a serious book of political history, Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage. in the February 17, 2013 edition.

How low has the Sunday Book Review sunk that it would not only publish an essay by Scarborough, but also highlight the brief review with a separate “Up Front” introduction? I haven’t seen the cover of the print edition, but it sounds as if Scarborough’s piece was printed on page 1!

Charles Pierce wrote a pithy reaction to the Times’ decision in his “What are the Gobshites Saying These Days” post on Monday.

…let us pause for a moment and congratulate the editors of The New York Times Book Review for handing a serious work of popular history to whatever’s left of Joe Scarborough after Paul Krugman picks the rest out from between his teeth….

the Review has fallen on some pretty hard times when they have a story meeting and someone says, “We got this new book on Eisenhower and Nixon. Who should we get to review it?” And someone else says, “I know. How about that guy who runs the Morning Zoo on MSNBC? He’s really popular with the people who get drunk in front of the TV and pass out during Rachel’s show the night before.” And this is what you get for an author ID.

Joe Scarborough is the host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Lovely. They should let Barnicle review the next Royko anthology.

At least Mike Barnicle used to be a working journalist.

Pierce links approvingly to this post by Dan Kennedy at Media Nation: Joe Scarborough doesn’t know much about history.

If you’re going to try something as cheeky as letting cable blowhard Joe Scarborough review a serious book about political history, you should at least make sure you’ve got a safety net in place. But the New York Times Book Review doesn’t even bother, letting Scarborough step in it repeatedly in his review of Jeffrey Frank’s “Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage.”

Here’s the first paragraph of Scarborough’s review:

It may be the closest of political relationships, but it rarely ends well. Vice President Thomas Jefferson challenged President John Adams for the top spot in the vicious campaign of 1800. President Andrew Jackson mused sardonically about executing Vice President John C. Calhoun. In the modern era, Lyndon Johnson seethed at slights real and perceived during John Kennedy’s thousand days, then turned around and humiliated his own vice president, Hubert Humphrey. Even Dick Cheney and George W. Bush fell out by the end of their tumultuous terms. But perhaps the most intriguing — and dysfunctional — political marriage in history was the one between the subjects of Jeffrey Frank’s meticulously researched “Ike and Dick.”

Kennedy wonders if Scarborough knows that

the Constitution originally stipulated that the candidate who received the most votes from the Electoral College would become president and that the person who came in second would become vice president. Perhaps that’s too much math for the famously innumerate Scarborough.

I didn’t know that either, but I think if I were writing a review for the New York Times, I would have found out before using that as my introduction. Kennedy explains that Jefferson and Adams, who couldn’t stand each other, ran against each other in 1796. Adams got more electoral votes and so they were forced to serve together, but their mutual dislike did not grow out of their political alliance as Scarborough implies.

Ike and Dick fishing at Camp David

Ike and Dick fishing at Camp David

Kennedy points out two other more serious misstatements in the review. In the paragraph above, Scarborough suggests that Lyndon Johnson’s insecurities stemmed from Jack Kennedy’s mistreatment and that led Johnson to humiliate his own Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Scarborough isn’t really clear about this, but he seems to be drawing analogies to the Eisenhower-Nixon relationship. He seems to claim–perhaps based on his reading of Frank’s book–that Nixon’s neuroses stemmed from his difficult relationship with Eisenhower. But Nixon was a psychologically troubled person long before he met Ike and suggesting otherwise is inaccurate. Likewise, Johnson had plenty of psychological issues before he got involved with Jack Kennedy. Dan Kennedy writes:

As anyone who’s read Robert Caro’s “The Passage of Power” knows, Johnson, like Nixon, suffered from a world-class case of insecurity long before he ever met John Kennedy. The truth is the opposite of what Scarborough claims: both Nixon and Johnson were uniquely unsuited to suffer the slights that are inherent to the vice presidency long before they assumed the office.

Finally, Kennedy points out the ludicrousness of the following passage from the Scarborough piece:

A fascinating subplot in Frank’s story details Nixon’s role in pushing the administration on the issue of civil rights. Long criticized as the author of the Republican Party’s racially tinged “Southern strategy,” Nixon is shown by Frank to be a determined advocate for the Civil Rights Act of 1957, as well as a trusted ally of Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson.

Yes, Nixon was supportive of Martin Luther King during the 1950s, and did try to get Eisenhower to push for African American civil rights, but Scarborough completely ignores Nixon’s later rejection of King during the 1960 presidential campaign and his [Nixon’s] development of the “Southern Strategy” in 1968. If those later events weren’t included in Frank’s book, a competent reviewer would have called attention to them. In fact, if Scarborough had googled, he could have quickly found an article by Franks himself that points out Nixon’s later involvement in blatant racism. Franks writes in The Daily Beast, January 21, 2013:

There once was a real connection between the two men, but it more or less ended with RN’s spineless behavior during the 1960 presidential campaign, after Dr. King was arrested on phony charges stemming from a traffic violation. Coretta Scott King had been terrified; she worried with good reason that her husband might be killed en route to Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, and she appealed to the Nixon and John F. Kennedy campaigns to intervene.

Nixon, however, demurred; he said that it would be “grandstanding” to speak out, according to his aide William Safire. Nixon’s real motive, though, seems clear: it was a close election and he was willing to lose black support if it meant gaining a new harvest of white votes in the once-Democratic south. Eight years later, this approach became the carefully considered “Southern strategy.”

The Kennedy brothers then stepped in to help King.

John and Robert Kennedy helped to win Dr. King’s release, and soon enough their campaign distributed two million copies of a pamphlet titled “‘No Comment’ Nixon Versus a Candidate With a Heart, Senator Kennedy” to well chosen voters. It can’t be proved that this made the difference in an election in which the popular vote turned out to be the closest ever (Nixon and Kennedy were separated by about 112,000 votes out of sixty-nine million cast), but it’s a fact that President Eisenhower in 1956 got some 40 percent of the black vote and that Nixon in 1960 won just 32 percent—not bad by modern Republican standards, but still a steep drop. Four years later, facing Barry Goldwater, Lyndon Johnson won 94 percent of the black vote, which set a demographic pattern that endures.

We already knew that Morning Joe doesn’t understand economics; we now know he’s history-challenged as well. In addition, I have some problems with the clarity of his writing. Here are a couple of examples.

Paragraph 2 begins:

Franklin Roosevelt’s vice president memorably said that being No. 2 was in effect not worth a bucket of warm spit.

Which vice president? FDR served with three: Henry A. Wallace, John Nance Garner, and Harry S. Truman. If you said John Nance Garner, you’re correct. And he didn’t qualify the judgment with “in effect” either. Was Scarborough just to lazy to look up the quote?

This reminds me of problems that many college freshmen have in their writing–they either don’t provide enough context or they assume knowledge the reader may not have. They also tend to use unnecessary qualifications instead of just making straightforward statements.

In paragraph 3, Scarborough writes:

“Ike and Dick” is a highly engrossing political narrative that skillfully takes the reader through the twisted development of a strange relationship that would help shape America’s foreign and domestic agenda for much of the 20th century.

Really? Perhaps that judgment came from the book; but it’s a pretty sweeping statement that needs to be backed up with specific examples. But Scarborough doesn’t offer any. When he does provide more context, as he does in paragraph 5, he leaves out important details. He briefly mentions a “secret Nixon fund” that led to Eisenhower trying to dump Nixon from the ticket in 1952, and says that Nixon survived; but Scarborough never even mentions what saved him–the Checkers speech!

The entire review is only a little over 1,000 words. Surely Scarborough could have added a few more historical details and specific examples to back up his assertions.

If I were grading this review for a college course, I’d probably have to give it a C+, or maybe a B- in these days of grade inflation. The grammar and sentence structure are okay; but the review itself is short on context,  the historical inaccuracies are problematic, and the lack of specific examples makes for rather boring reading. Frankly, I’m disappointed in the New York Times for publishing it.


Monday Reads

Good Morning!! Today is the official Martin Luther King birthday holiday. I hope everyone has the day off. I think I have a few interesting reads for you this morning.

I’ll start with this in depth report by Naomi Klein on scientific studies of the impact of the BP oil gusher on the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico. While the government reassures Americans that everything down in the gulf is safe safe safe, scientists are finding plenty of evidence that that’s not the case. According to

Ian MacDonald, a celebrated oceanographer at Florida State University. “The gulf is not all better now. We don’t know what we’ve done to it.”

MacDonald is arguably the scientist most responsible for pressuring the government to dramatically increase its estimates of how much oil was coming out of BP’s well. He points to the massive quantity of toxins that gushed into these waters in a span of three months (by current estimates, at least 4.1 million barrels of oil and 1.8 million gallons of dispersants). It takes time for the ocean to break down that amount of poison, and before that could happen, those toxins came into direct contact with all kinds of life-forms. Most of the larger animals—adult fish, dolphins, whales—appear to have survived the encounter relatively unharmed. But there is mounting evidence that many smaller creatures—bacteria, phytoplankton, zooplankton, multiple species of larvae, as well as larger bottom dwellers—were not so lucky. These organisms form the base of the ocean’s food chain, providing sustenance for the larger animals, and some grow up to be the commercial fishing stocks of tomorrow. One thing is certain: if there is trouble at the base, it won’t stay there for long.

There is evidence of permanent changes in organisms likely caused by the oil and dispersants, and those changes may be passed on to future generations as mutations. In addition, the damage to creatures at the lower end of the food chain is so extensive that it may lead to collapses and even extinctions in larger species. While it will be difficult to directly pin all the damage on BP, there really isn’t much doubt that the oil and dispersants are at the root of the problems. It’s very bad, folks.

Ms Magazine has gotten involved in a protest against the New Yorker.

Last week, Anne Hays put her latest copy of the New Yorker back in the mail, with a note explaining that the august publication owed her a refund for putting out the second issue in a row featuring almost no pieces by women. In a December issue of the New Yorker content by women made up only three pages of the magazine’s 150; one January issue contained only two items by women, a poem and a brief “Shouts and Murmers” item.

“I am baffled, outraged, saddened, and a bit depressed that, though some would claim our country’s sexism problem ended in the late ’60s, the most prominent and respected literary magazine in the country can’t find space in its pages for women’s voices in the year 2011,” wrote Hays in the letter, promising to send back every issue containing fewer than five female bylines. “You tend to publish 13 to 15 writers in each issue; five women shouldn’t be that hard,” she concluded.

Her letter, posted to Facebook and widely circulated last week, has prompted Ms. magazine to start an online petition reminding the magazine’s editors that there are in fact lots of women in the world and that many of them write feature articles, reviews and poems, and that the premier literary/current events magazine in the country should reflect that fact.

According to the article, the New Yorker is not alone in ignoring women writers. Read it and weep.

Read the rest of this entry »