Watching coverage of the Massachusetts senatorial election Tuesday night, I wondered if MSNBC was getting ready to cut off its cable signal to the state. Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, positively enraged that Massachusetts dared to elect a Republican, delivered two hours of nonstop bilious rage toward the state's voters, calling them "irrational" and "teabaggers," engaged in "a total divorce from reality," and hinting that they're vicious racists to boot.
If you watched CNN or Fox News last night, you got a balanced analysis of how Republican Scott Brown pulled off the political upset of the century (or, if you prefer, how Democrat Martha Coakley blew a dead solid electoral lock). Yes, I said Fox News, without irony. To be sure, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity made it clear they were rooting for Brown. But their shows also included a steady parade of liberal-leaning guests -- former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, former Dukakis campaign manager Susan Estrich, Democratic party strategist Mary Anne Marsh, NPR commentator Juan Williams and radio host Alan Colmes. And pollster Frank Luntz interviewed a panel of two dozen or so Massachusetts voters, most of them Democrats, about how they voted and why. Practically every conceivable perspective on the election was represented.
And on MSNBC, you got practically every conceivable expression of venom against Brown and anybody who voted him. From Maddow's dark suspicions that the election was rigged -- she cited complaints about a grand total of six ballots out of about 2.25 million cast -- to Olbermann's suggestion in the video up above that the same Massachusets voters who went for Barack Obama by a 62-28 percent margin had suddenly realized they helped elect a black guy and went Republican in repentance, the network's coverage was idiotic, one-sided and downright ugly.
Olbermann was simply outraged by the vote. "The teabaggers may have elected their first guy tonight," he declared as Brown rolled up a commanding lead. Just in case the connotations of the word teabag might be lost on his audience, he clarified his feelings: "I wanted to apologize for calling Republican Senate candidate, Scott Brown, an irresponsible homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, teabagging supporter of violence against women and against politicians with whom he disagrees. I`m sorry -- I left
out the word 'sexist.'"
Maddow added dirty campaigner to the charges. Her sense of fair play was violated by a Brown campaign ad in which his daughter complained about Coakley's attacks on her father: "Martha Coakley`s new negative ad represents everything that discourages young women from getting involved in politics, and as a young woman, I`m completely offended by that," the daughter said in the ad. Sniffed Maddow: "It`s like using your kid as a human shield." Oddly, Maddow made no mention of the Coakley TV ad that started the exchange, which began: “1,736 women were raped in Massachusetts in 2008. Scott Brown wants hospitals to turn them all away...”
MSNBC's idea of "balancing" these rants was to interview former Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean. (His main insight: Coakley's loss was, honest to God, George W. Bush's fault.) When a third MSNBC host, Chris Matthews, timidly raised the possibility that Massachusetts voters were concerned about high government spending, Maddow snapped that such thinking was "irrational" and added: "To say it`s fiscally responsible to not reform health care is insanity... It`s a total divorce from reality."
(To be perfectly fair, I wouldn't have believed anything Matthews said, either, after he insisted that Richard Nixon's presidency crumbled not over Watergate but the recession of 1974.)
It may be too much to expect NBC, these days reduced to a national wisecrack, to be embarrassed over the frothing lunacy that passes for news coverage at corporate stepchild MSNBC. But both networks are part of the same news division. If news boss Steve Capus thinks his reporters can continue to appear with Olbermann and Maddow without suffering credibility contamination, he's dumber than whoever was behind the Leno/O'Brien late-night shuffle.