What is wrong with you, Lawrence O’Donnell? The Last Word’s Monday night Fox News-style ambush rant on Anthony Weiner

Last night on his MSNBC show The Last Word, Lawrence O’Donnell did two things that I didn’t think were possible: he made former representative and current NYC mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner look like a sympathetic, reasonable candidate and made himself look like a stereotypical haranguing Fox News hack.

O’Donnell began the segment with a sucker-punch question to Weiner: “What is wrong with you?” He continued almost without letting Weiner complete a full sentence, let alone a full answer, constantly interrupting and peppering him with judgmental opinions disguised as “journalism”:

  • What is wrong with you that you cannot seem to imagine a life without elective office?
  • …what seems to be your absolute desperate need for elective office and what seems to be your inability to live outside of it.
  • You have been pursuing elective office for over 20 years now….it does not seem to be a fully healthy pursuit.
  • If you take in the totality of your life, Anthony, do you think you’ve spent your time well?
  • Why didn’t you do something for no money?
  • What drives you?…. I mean it from a psychiatric level…. You are being driven by some kind of demons….

And Murrow turns over in his grave….

O’Donnell repeatedly accused Weiner of “hustling his services” as a lobbyist. His proof? “Come on, I know the racket of ex-officials in this town.” Yes, that’s it: superiority without substance – always good to fall on when facts fail you. He calls Weiner a lobbyist because it wouldn’t sound as sneeringly gotcha to say “consulted to businesses that do business with the government”. Consulting to businesses that lobby the government or do work for the government is not lobbying, no matter how much your straw man wants it to be.

O’Donnell must remember replaying Bill O’Reilly’s February 2011 Fox News interview with Obama and keeping count of how many times O’Reilly interrupted the President. The final count, according to O’Donnell, was more than 70 (live and taped parts combined). The number of times that O’Reilly allowed Obama to complete an answer uninterrupted: 0. We all thought at the time that O’Donnell was being scornful of O’Reilly when he reported this…but maybe he was really just watching the game tapes in some misguided attempt to learn and improve his ratings to an O’Reilly level. Interruptions and outrageous rants will drive viewers to twitter and the blogosphere to complain…but if they’re complainin’, they’re watchin’, and any publicity is good publicity when you’re down in the ratings.

Weiner, to his credit (and yes, I was surprised), stayed on message with some good replies – when he was able to squeeze in a word. His first quick answer to the WIWWY question: “What is wrong with me that I care so much about the issues that I fight for every day, that I have my entire career?” On the silly question of the effective use of the totality of his life, he responded seriously:

“Yes. I think I’ve devoted almost my entire adult life to serving the constituents that I’ve represented, I’ve worked very hard for them. I fought very hard for the middle class and those struggling to make it. There are a lot of people who don’t believe that is a noble pursuit. I disagree with them.”

The kangaroo court interview was pretty painful to watch, but in the end had me rooting for the underdog. Finally Weiner threw up his hands at the end of the segment and said, “Do you want to ask me a question, or do you have me on a harangue with a split screen? This can’t be good TV for anybody.” O’Donnell offered to continue the interview online, but, as Weiner pointed out, nobody watches the show – so who’s going to watch it online?

They did, however, continue the interview online after the show, and O’Donnell finally let Weiner finish more than one sentence. For a moment he dangerously strayed back toward journalism when he started to clarify his reasoning behind asking the WIWWY question:

“I watched what you’ve gone through in this campaign, and you knew when you went into the campaign that you were bringing problems into the campaign that were absolutely insurmountable because the problems were continuous.”

But although there was slightly more give-and-take now that they were off-air, it was too little, too late. O’Donnell still insisted on hammering home his armchair “psycho”-analysis at the expense of letting the interviewee, y’know, participate in the interview. At the end, an exasperated Weiner asked O’Donnell, “If you have so much confidence in your points, why won’t you ever let me respond to them?”

Because, Anthony, that’s not what desperate hacks with low ratings do.

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